Despite the rise and apparent dominance of Windows-powered netbooks in North America, Linux-based netbooks remain very popular globally, according to ABI Research figures quoted by ComputerWorld. ABI analyst Jeff Orr predicts that Linux will find its way onto 32% of the 35 million netbooks expected to ship this year, and that Linux netbooks may go on to overtake their Windows-powered counterparts in popularity by 2013.
Not so surprisingly, Linux owes much of its worldwide popularity to the developing world. (The Asia-Pacific market is reportedly the biggest for netbooks, even if it includes some wealthy nations like Australia and Japan.) Orr reckons folks in the developing world are buying Linux-based netbooks and using them as their primary computers, in part because they have little experience with Windows and, therefore, less of a reliance on it.
Microsoft begs to differ. ComputerWorld says the company wrote in a statement, "Over 93% of worldwide small notebook PCs run Windows today. . . . With the recent launch of Windows 7, we believe that trend will continue." (Windows 7 Starter already ships on a number of netbooks in the U.S., providing a stripped-down version of Microsoft's latest operating system with an upgrade path to full-featured editions.)
Windows 7 Starter won't be a player in the next battleground, though—ARM-based netbooks or "smartbooks." ABI's Orr expects those systems to grow in popularity and contribute to Linux's rise in the netbook world. Microsoft does offer Windows Embedded CE and Windows Mobile for ARM platforms, but ComputerWorld says Microsoft's success against competing OSes like Google's Android and Chrome OS will likely hinge on what kinds of discounts it offers to smartbook makers. In any case, lack of support for x86 Windows software could hurt the appeal of Windows on smartbooks.