Selling Linux on Netbooks to a "Professional" Crowd
The Economist published an article recently about netbooks, the small and cheap laptops that may well prove central to bridging the gap between geeky Linux users and the masses. While it doesn’t say anything very original, the recommendations it makes–and the audience of professionals that’s likely to read them–are noteworthy in their own right.
The article, like plenty of IT blogs before it, warns readers not to succumb to the temptation of thinking of netbooks as inexpensive, full-blown laptops. Rather, netbooks should be treated as affordable and highly portable super-BlackBerrys, to be used for a limited range of tasks, like word processing and web browsing on-the-go.
Moreover, the Economist strongly recommends that users run Linux and OpenOffice on their netbooks, which keeps the cost down and makes more efficient use of limited hardware resources. Again, nothing too new here–Linux has been championed on netbooks since the beginning.
What is worth observing, however, is the media in which these recommendations are appearing and the people who will read them.
The Economist is not just another tech blog written for geeky readers. Rather, its conclusions regarding netbooks seem to be aimed at professionals, not hobbyists. After all, if the article were written for a niche audience of geeks, its authors would not have to explain what Linux is or couch their descriptions of netbook specifications in layman’s terms.
I wonder, however, how many of the people who read the Economist are going to be willing to take Linux seriously. In my experience, the business people and politicians of the world tend not to be comfortable using software that doesn’t cost money, precisely because it’s free, which can be hard to accept. They’re also used to paying people to deal with computers for them–they don’t want to spend time figuring out how to install Skype on Ubuntu, for example.
On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Economists’ readers will learn to love Linux. Or maybe (more likely) they won’t really think about which operating system they use as long as it comes pre-installed and lets them do what they want, which is mostly browsing the web and preparing documents.
Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted the netbook article, or drawn unfair conclusions (admittedly, they’re all basically anectdotal) about the attitudes of “professionals” towards Linux. If I’m proven wrong by a surge in Linux use among the kind of people who spend their time glued to BlackBerrys today, however, I won’t be upset.