Mobile carriers may start giving away netbooks for free, and Linux-based application stores could help them profit by doing it, the head of a Linux advocacy group told Chinese companies on Monday.
The move by carriers to sell netbooks at a discount and seek revenue from later application downloads is an opportunity for Linux, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, said at a Beijing forum. He urged Chinese and global companies to consider offering devices and download stores based on Linux.
But while Linux has some advantages, user habits and slim software offerings on the operating system mean Windows will continue to dominate on netbooks in the near term, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
Competition could push netbook prices down as more carriers subsidize them, which would make putting Linux on the laptops an attractive way to cut costs, said Zemlin.
"In less than a year, I predict that the new cost of a netbook will be zero," Zemlin said.
A carrier that creates its own application store using an open source OS also avoids having to share download revenue with the OS designer, he said. The carrier can then pocket more of the revenue itself under any split arranged with application developers, he said.
But users could find Linux limiting. Linux does not support the wide pool of programs that Windows does, and most users currently favour Windows because they are more familiar with its interface, said Gold, the analyst.
Carriers would also incur costs by customising Linux to create their own download stores, or by handing the task to a device maker, said Gold.
Windows could get another boost if the low-end version of Windows 7 proves effective on netbooks when the new OS comes out this year, he said.
Some Linux-based download stores are already open or in the works. The Android Market for phones and upcoming netbooks is based on Google's Android OS, which uses a Linux kernel. China Mobile plans to open an application store based on an Android-based mobile OS it is developing.