If you were at PyCon you probably noticed that netbooks are becoming more popular. PyCon delegates being geeks, I don't remember seeing a single one that wasn't running some form of Linux, though Microsoft do support the little machines with Windows XP. This in itself is an admission that Vista, their current operating system, is a resource hog. As a Vista user all I am prepared to say is "get me out of here", though the day-to-day experience is made bearable [short pause while all applications lock up for 90 seconds and the disk hammers away madly at I know not what] by the (open source) Cygwin command shell and the (open source) VirtualBox virtual machine that lets me operate virtual Linux hosts.
I don't have a netbook yet (though I have already bought one for my wife), but it's only a matter of time. I currently lug 6.6 pounds of laptop around with me for the large 17" screen that I find useful for development and the 4GB of memory, which was a lot for a laptop a couple of years ago. I may extend the life of the machine by upsizing the drive to 500GB, but I definitely want my next portable machine to be lighter, and lighter means smaller (though nowadays not necessarily much less powerful). In other words, it's the coming trend.
The manufacturers (who are all in the far East, naturally) have detected this trend, and are pushing out new hardware faster than a sow can push piglets. All of this new hardware can run at least three different operating systems: Linux, Windows and Android. Users have been expressing their discontent with the higher price of Windows systems in the desktop market, but didn't have a lot of alternative. However, Microsoft realized that if they charged their usual premium for Windows XP on the netbooks people would just laugh and buy a system with one of the alternatives loaded.
So the bottom line is that Microsoft are almost giving XP away (and why wouldn't they, the money it's already made them) just as a damage-control measure. It's vital to Microsoft that Linux and Android aren't seen as viable alternatives to Windows, particularly since the beta program of Windows 7 is making it seem like an operating system whose principal selling-point is the ability to switch its features off.
Enter the Taiwanese Computex trade show that opened yesterday. Qualcomm were showing a new Asus netbook running the Android operating system, but on the Asus stand there was no sign at all of this startling new development. In fact Asustek's vice chairman John Tsang said, shortly after sharing the stage with Intel and Microsoft representatives, that the Android notebook was not a priority. Android still has a way to go to be totally user-friendly on a netbook, but if Qualcomm could show it, why couldn't Asus? Were they, perhaps, being polite to a major business partner?
The UK PCWorld chain also said it is stopping selling anything but Windows through itsbricks-and-mortar stores, though mail-order buyers still have the Linux option. When I see press releases like that I am always intrigued about whether they are induced purely by market forces or whether some backroom maneuvering isn't involved.
One thing's certain. No matter what they have done for Mac sales, Apple's long-running TV adverts have positioned Windows (synonymous in the public mind with "PC") as an unstable, unreliable, bug-ridden inconvenient platform. Now it's beginning to look as though the hardware industry is becoming more independent of Microsoft for the software necessary to run its devices, which I see as a good thing.
Microsoft stockholders may, of course, disagree. I wouldn't necessarily sell your Microsoft stock right now. Just don't buy too much more.