On the desktop, the outlook seems increasingly bright. Two independent user surveys, one from LinuxDesktop.com and another from the Linux Foundation, saw participation more than doubling in just one year. This indicates strong growth that cannot normally be measured. When it comes to free software, obtaining absolute numbers is different from studying trends. If you extrapolate these figures, as some industry watchers have already done, then it's almost safe to assume that the presence of GNU/Linux on the desktop has doubled in the past year.
In 2007, several major OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) such as Dell, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Epson have all begun offering GNU/Linux options for PCs that they stock. Other companies such as Toshiba have spoken in the press about the possibility of offering such choice in the near future.
Preinstalled GNU/Linux became more commonplace among smaller computer shops too. Some attribute this trend to Windows Vista backlash and -- in particular -- its steep hardware requirements that elevate cost. It appears like only a matter of time before offering GNU/Linux as an affordable option becomes the norm everywhere. With availability, a system that was once perceived as 'exotic' or a hobbyist's choice suddenly becomes mainstream.
Acceptance of GNU/Linux by the world's largest OEMs was only the beginning. Large retailers such as Tesco and Wal-Mart began offering cheaper GNU/Linux computers, adding more choice to past offerings that were less attractive, scarcely advertised, lacked support, and suffered from limited availability.
Wal-Mart's offer of the Everex gPC was a success. They sold out within a couple of weeks and this was not an isolated incident. Dell's sales figures of GNU/Linux PCs exceeded the company's initial expectations as well, so they expanded their offers to more models and brought GNU/Linux options to more parts of the world. 2007 will be remembered as the year when GNU/Linux became not only available, but also properly preinstalled on desktops and laptops by the world's largest companies.
Low-end Laptops and Tablets
In recent months, a wave of highly anticipated laptops finally arrived. Some insist on calling them gadgets because they are on the verge of being intuitive and affordable enough to suit every person and even be sold over the counter just like any consumable electronic item. These laptops are small and their use of GNU/Linux permits them to use modest hardware that is inexpensive. The Linux-based Eee PC is probably the most recent example.
It was only a couple of months ago that ASUSTek introduced the Eee PC, whose sales figures have so far exceeded the company's initial expectations. It soon became one of the most sought-after Christmas gifts and the company cannot manufacture these fast enough to meet overwhelming market demand. Just before Christmas, the company revised its sales forecast positively, made this product its second-most valuable asset, and even predicted that it would occupy a 20% market share among laptops within years.
The Eee PC is just one among several success stories that involve portable low-end products. They all happen to be Linux-based for a reason. Other similar laptops and tablets include: Zombu notebook (powered by Gentoo Linux), Nokia's Internet tablets (running the Debian-based Maemo), Intel's ClassMate (running Mandriva Linux) and PepperPad. Even Wal-Mart is poised to deliver a notebook equivalent of the Everex desktop mentioned above. It will be called Cloudbook.
The One Laptop Per Child makes another case study that isn't very ordinary. It is misunderstood by those who review it because its target audience is underprivileged children in parts of the world where computing is more rare. The laptop is highly innovative -- and thus it seems almost outlandish -- but at the same time a not-for-profit organization stands behind it. The laptop, which runs XO on top of Fedora Linux, strives to reach children all across the globe and become a universal educational tool. It is proving quite popular even among adults in United States where it is sold under the Give one, get one program (closing at the end of this month, so you can still order yours and help bridge the digital divide).