It wasn't even three-years ago that Asus took the concept of a cheap, small notebook and turned it into a revolution: the Linux-powered netbook. Today, netbooks continue to sell well. Indeed, Linux netbook sales forced Microsoft both to fire employees and to bring XP back from the dead. But, now, without any fanfare, Asus seems to have closed down its Linux lines at least in the United States.
I found out about this annoying development when some readers wrote to me to say that they'd been trying to get new Asus Linux-powered netbooks and that they'd gotten no-where. Some of the more persistent ones kept pestering Asus and this is what they heard from Asus sales:
"I show that this model is still in production and should be available to purchase through some of our online vendors such as Newegg, Tiger Direct, Zip Zoom Fly, Etc. Also we have just become retail and you may find our units in Target, Fry's Electronics, Best Buy, Etc. I apologize I don't have more information about what stores have how many units, but at least you know that this model is still in production. Thank you and have a great day!"
How nice, except it turned out that none of these retailers actually had any Linux-powered ASUS Eee PC 1000 line for sale. Or, any other netbooks with Linux pre-installed.
Another Asus sales message went: "I have just been informed that we do not have any netbooks that are loaded with Linux at this time. We do have a model that will be coming out but I do not have an ETA on that as of yet. I apologize for the wrong information." That sounded promising, but the next message poured color water on his hopes of getting an Asus netbook with Linux: "This information is not going to make you happy and for that I apologize. This model has hit its end of life and they are no longer producing them. I have also found out that our Eee PC line will no longer be sold with Linux. I am not sure for what reasons but I am sorry. Have you tried to look for the units that are either refurbished or sold from companies as used?"
So, what's really going on here? I contacted Asus representatives and asked: "Is Asus indeed no longer offering Linux on its lines? If so, why? Does the company plan to offer other netbooks/notebooks with Linux in the future?"
I haven't heard a peep out of Asus since then. It sure looks to me like Asus, which started the Linux netbook movement, has dropped out of it.
Why? Well, it's not sales. Netbook continue to sell well in general and netbooks with Linux has about 32% of the market. And, since Linux costs less than Windows, the profit margin should be higher for Linux netbook vendors.
I'm sure that the real reason is Microsoft has pressured Asus into abandoning Linux. On ASUS' site, you'll now see the slogan "ASUS recommends Windows 7" proudly shown. Never mind that, while Windows 7 is a good operating system, Windows 7 is awful on netbooks.
That's by design. Microsoft's chief poobah Steve Ballmer has said, "Our license tells you what a netbook is. Our license says it's got to have a super-small screen, which means it probably has a super-small keyboard, and it has to have a certain processor and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
So you can forget about running Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional on a netbook. Instead, if you want to buy, say an Asus Eee PC 1005PE, you're stuck with Windows 7 Starter Edition, aka the trash version. Windows 7 Starter Edition only reason to exist is to act as a bait and switch to get you through the virtual sales door so the vendor can try to sell you a more expensive computer.
Fortunately, while Asus may want us to join it in drinking Microsoft's Windows 7 Starter Edition kool-aid, other vendors like Dell, System76, and ZaReason still make it possible to get computers with the full-powered operating system that's the right netbook size: Linux.
This story, "Has Asus Abandoned Netbook Linux?" was originally published by Computerworld.