Wednesday, 14 January 2009

ooky goo interfaces and netbooks

Interesting article in the NYTimes on how Microsoft has an opportunity for putting its operating system(s) on net books due to the general lack of consumer interest in having linux on netbooks.

This is something quite clear here in Australia where most of the big distributors only offer the xp versions of netbooks into the retail market. And I reckon is part of the reason is the 'ooky goo' interfaces that most netbook linux versions sport. Firstly, people know how to use XP, and this makes it easy to customise, ie install software. As an aside, I got a test moodle + xampp install running out of the box on an xp laptop in twenty minutes earlier this week, excluding download times. It was frighteningly easy, and I used xp as I couldn't find a decent near-zero config linux package.

This isn't the case with netbook linux distros - for example take a gander at these instructions as to how to install skype on a linux based acer aspire one. Hardly easy. Yet as we know it's easy to install apps under ubuntu or any other linux distro with a decent package manager/repository infrastructure.

And yes, you could take a netbook and put linux on it. But again it's not easy. Ignoring various driver incompatibilities, you need to either hunt down an external cd drive, or else configure up a suitable usb drive. Not rocket science, but it involves extra expense, and you have to want to do it.

So you end up with the guy going to the store, seeing the ooky-goo hobbled linux interface or the xp interface, and off course they go for the 'real' one, not the playschool version, so we end up with XP.

Having vendors produce, or endorse/support a pre-rolled full distro distributed on a usb stick might be the way. Give the users a version that will work, will install, on a $10 USB stick. sell it at cost, or even put it in the box with the linux machines.

And why should they do this - well they escape the Microsoft tax, and with a lot of educational organisations looking at (a) giving students netbooks to solve the computer access problem and (b) looking at open source to get their licencing costs under control it might just be a unique selling proposition.

Me I'd settle for fluxbuntu, open solaris, xbuntu, or whatever on a netbook. Just as long as wireless worked, skype worked, and I could surf and write notes, and install the one obscure app I havn't realised I need ...

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