Eighteen short months ago, Taiwanese manufacturer Asus debuted the Eee, the netbook that launched the latest craze for small, lightweight, inexpensive laptops. When the original 350,000 units all equipped with Linux sold out in just a few months, the open source community rejoiced.
And then they got to work creating new open source apps specifically for the Eee and similar netbooks.
Since then, the competitive landscape has changed considerably. Today more than 50 manufacturers make netbooks or "mini-notebooks." Most of these are still priced under $500, but several approach $1,000. Instead of appealing to the students and residents of developing countries who were the original target market, most netbooks are purchased by middle class consumers who want a second, more mobile computer (or who view the devices as a fashion statement).
As the market has changed, the devices themselves have also changed. The original 7-inch screens have grown to 10 inches. Colorful cases for the fashion conscious abound, and keyboards no longer feel as cramped as on the first netbooks. Hard drives and RAM have increased dramatically, and the newest Eee model will ship with an optical drive, the first netbook to do so.
These changes have only served to increase the popularity of a product that was already enjoying exponential sales growth. In fact, netbooks sales are one of the few bright spots in the suffering tech industry. Analysts estimate that between 20 and 35 million netbooks will ship this year, dramatically growing their share of the laptop market.
ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis believes, 'Netbook sales may not be adversely affected in fact may actually be helped by the recessionary pressures." He points to three facts to support this belief, "First, netbooks are a fairly new class of device, and widespread adoption has only recently begun. Second, they are relatively inexpensive, and some consumers may see them as a viable alternative to that pricey laptop they originally intended to buy. Finally, they can run inexpensive operating systems that dont require powerful hardware."
While ABI believes that those "inexpensive operating systems" (i.e., Linux) will be the norm on netbooks by 2012, it hasn't happened yet. In fact, three out of four netbooks sold last year shipped with Windows installed.
Despite that somewhat disheartening news, open source developers have continued plugging away on apps for netbooks. While many of those projects are still in the early stages of development, several are at a point where they could be useful to Eee users. If you're an Eee owner, here are 25 open source apps worth considering. Some were designed specifically for the Eee, and others are among the most popular apps available through Eee Download (and most useful). And if you don't have an Eee, many of these apps will work on other netbooks or more traditional laptops as well.
Still in the early stages of development, this Asus-sponsored project provides a place for netbook users to interact. It includes documentation and source code for the Eee. Operating System: Linux.
This Linux kernel driver makes it possible to use those extra keys on your Asus laptop to control your display, and it makes the appropriate lights blink to show when you have mail or a live wireless connection. This project now includes the eeepc-laptop project which was aimed specifically at the Asus Eee netbooks. Operating System: Linux.
Want to use your Eee with a Zoom 3095 or similar USB modem? This kernel driver makes it possible. Operating System: Linux.