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Will Linux and Netbooks Invade the Enterprise?

Here in Greater Boston, today is a real anomaly. As your editor sits and types this on Tuesday afternoon (cue the Moody Blues, even though you'll be reading this on Wednesday), it's 93 degrees outside. Around here, that's hot for this time of year. In fact, this is record-breaking heat. But it's going away tonight, and tomorrow we'll be back to showers and temperatures in the 50s. So, since the weather is giving us an unusual day, we at RCPU thought we'd come up with an unusual topic for the newsletter. We also want to get outside before the rain comes and the temperature drops 40 degrees, but don't tell our bosses that, please.

Anyway, your editor just ordered a netbook (running XP), one of those nifty little low-cost computers that's helping put a dent in Microsoft's earnings. And then today, we noticed that HP is introducing a low-cost ($529 -- not netbook-cheap, but not a wallet-buster) computer for small businesses, which will, if you want it to, come pre-installed with Linux.

On a personal level, it was hard to justify spending the money to buy a full-fledged notebook, but XP was more attractive than Linux for a lot of reasons. On an enterprise level, we know that low-cost options -- thin client computing comes to mind -- have existed for a long time. But we're wondering: Why shouldn't small businesses adopt netbooks, at least for those employees who don't do much more than use Office and a browser? And if compatibility with Office is good enough, why shouldn't those people use 3 running on Linux? Or maybe Google Docs? You see where we're going with this.

Microsoft always says that the cost of running Linux is more expensive than the cost of running Windows...eventually. And it probably is. It probably doesn't make much sense, either, to try to get everyday office workers to switch away from using the software they've known forever and to type on keyboards that are 92 percent of regular size.

Then again, people seem to like netbooks for home use, so it's not unreasonable to think that they could get used to them in the office. And while, as far as we've read, only a small percentage of netbooks sold runs Linux, it's a much cheaper option than Windows, at least at the outset. The fact that it's selling on netbooks at all shows that at least some consumers must be warming to it.

So as we sit in the air conditioning on an unusual day, we wrap up this unusual post by asking whether you, partners, are running into any interest in netbooks or desktop Linux in your accounts and how you're dealing with it if you are. And we're asking whether it makes any sense at all to even talk about netbooks and Linux in a business setting.

Send your opinions to [email protected]. Hey, it could be a good point for discussion, or it could be just a silly detour from more rational thinking on a hot day.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 29, 2009