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May 29, 2009
Rumor has it that Microsoft has arbitrarily limited its definition of “netbook” to machines with screens smaller than 10.2 inches. This move is presumably intended to force more consumers to pay for the full version of Windows 7, rather than buying the less expensive (and less usable) “Starter” or “Home Basic” editions. But this strategy could backfire by driving sales of Linux-based netbooks, leaving Microsoft out in the cold.
The news follows reports last week that Microsoft has finally come to its senses and removed the ludicrous three-application limit imposed on Windows 7 Starter Edition (whether the privilege of changing the desktop background will also be restored remains unclear). But while the logic in that decision may have been sound, the notion that Microsoft will profit by forcing users to pay for the full version of Windows 7 on netbooks with larger screens is somewhat less founded.
In a world where Microsoft enjoys a total monopoly, a decree from Redmond that only the smallest and lowest-end netbooks qualify for Windows pricing discounts might work, since consumers and hardware manufacturers would have little choice but to comply–especially in the budget-laptop market, where Apple’s expensive product line-up offers no real competition to Windows.
But the netbook market, more than anything else, has made clear that the Pax Microsofta is no longer a sure thing. Although early predictions of Linux’s total domination of the netbook scene failed to pan out, Linux offerings from big-name netbook manufacturers like Asus, Dell and HP have done irreversible damage to the Microsoft monopoly by awaking consumers to the fact that they have a choice in operating systems.
Coverage of Ubuntu-based netbooks in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, even if it’s not always 100% positive, has further eroded Windows’ position as the only operating system that the masses take seriously.
When consumers have a choice and know it, they’re not going to blindly embrace whichever pricing schemes Microsoft decides to impose on the market. Rather than paying for Windows 7 Home Premium–which is likely to cost as much as a netbook itself–costumers will simply opt for Linux.
Neither will hardware manufacturers obediently acquiesce to Microsoft’s demands as they did in the past. If they find it difficult to sell netbooks whose price is doubled by being bundled with Windows, OEMs are likely to market Linux-based computers more vigorously–which will, in turn, increase public awareness of alternatives to Windows, fueling a cycle that ends with the collapse of Microsoft’s monopoly.
If Microsoft continues to operate under the delusion that consumers will choose Windows simply because they don’t know there’s an alternative that’s been embraced by mainstream users and hardware manufacturers, it’s in for a painful shock.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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