by Naman Pugalia.
My experience with the Eee PC
I purchased the Asus Eee PC and upgraded the RAM. This allowed me to run 2 operating systems, as I was originally wary about working with Linux only. In the event, I used Windows once : to install Ubuntu. I thought it would be a travel gadget, but I have used it as my primary machine for 3 months now.
Weighing 2.2 kilograms, it is lighter than most books and with a 4 hour battery life, it is made for the on-the-go user. The built-in mic, speakers and camera work well with chat programs like Skype. The 7-inch screen is a fine compromise between a smartphone (in fact, Dell is banking on netbooks and not smartphones to ride the 3G wave) and a laptop. The lack of a CD/DVD drive does not bother me as I use flash drives for backup, and software for Ubuntu is easily installed over the network so reading CDs or DVDs isn't required.
OpenOffice, the open source competitor to Microsoft's office suite, runs smoothly and recognizes most formats used by Windows users, thus giving inter-operability with others. The pre-installed Transmission BitTorrent Client, GIMP Image Editor and VLC Media Player fulfill other basic needs. The Eeebuntu forum and the Eeeuser forum offer elaborate tech support.
Larger implications of what is going on
Netbooks are important for India as they can revolutionize the way the economy works due to the mobile-phone-like multiplier effects. Barring Apple, most manufacturers have released such a smaller, lighter and cheaper laptop. Considering the critical mass this product category has acquired, Apple is probably working on a prototype. Most netbooks come with a low cost CPU such as the Intel Atom processor, designed specifically for this new breed of notebooks.
Netbooks are a new battleground for operating systems. Given the open source code, and long experience in coping with underpowered hardware, the Linux kernel has easily adapted to netbook conditions. Linux usability is assisted by the availability of free applications software such as Firefox (a web browser), Thunderbird (an email program), Openoffice (a word processor, spreadsheet, etc) and programs that play music and video. The Taiwanese hardware vendors such as Asus, who are some of the top sellers of netbooks, have got closely involved with Linux device drivers and distributions in ensuring that their netbooks work well with Linux.
Microsoft's Windows 7, expected to ship later this year, will come with a Starter Edition which will be light enough to run on netbooks. It will permit the user to run a maximum of three applications at once. Users will have to choose between this, and a Linux environment where there are no artificial constraints.
In rich countries, netbooks are used as secondary gadgets which help in executing basic tasks such as e-mailing, browsing and blogging. Many users in low income markets will, in contrast, embrace netbooks as a primary computing device. Therefore, a light OS with free software is more likely to succeed in emerging markets characterized by customers with small budgets. For the price sensitive Indian consumer, Ubuntu Linux is a natural choice for an OS for a netbook.
Looking into the future, there are two interesting dimensions to what is taking place with netbooks. For Microsoft, the price points that Windows 7 can support are limited by (a) The low price of netbooks and (b) The availability of a credible competitor at a price of zero. This will force Microsoft to fundamentally modify its business model.
The second interesting dimension is the new embrace, by hardware vendors, of Unix (i.e., OS X and Linux family including Google's `Android'). Whether it is Ubuntu Linux, Google's `Android', or other Linux variants, the Taiwanese / Japanese / Korean producers of netbooks and mobile phones are now much more tuned towards finding ways to put flexible and free operating systems on their hardware while enjoying healthier profit margins. This will have many interesting long-term implications for the future of computer devices and hardware.