Last week I had the opportunity of getting up close and personal with four of the new mini-laptops that have recently been launched. I won’t go in to the brands as they are not relevant to the point of this post suffice to say all are well known and all use open source or non-Microsoft software. And it is this that captured my interest.
I have hankered after one of these devices for some time but being a fan of Dell I am waiting to see what they come up with before jumping in. What I have seen so far makes me believe that they will be worth the wait. For blogging, watching movies and keeping in touch while mobile I expect to get plenty of use out of it and avoid damage to both my back and my eyes!
What I hadn’t realised was that these devices are going to change the world. I realise this is a big claim but until you get close to one their potential is not immediately obvious. It is not the hardware size that is going to be the game changing aspect of these devices either; it is the software.
Mini laptops, or compact laptops as they are also referred to, are going to change the world in two ways. Firstly they will facilitate the growth of the open software movement within a consumer base and secondly they will allow laptop manufacturers to differentiate their product by competing with Microsoft in the software the devices use. The driver for both these changes is the cost of production which is necessarily being driven down. When prices for laptops get to just a few hundred dollars the main barrier for further cost reduction is the operating system (OS) and the desktop applications.
All the products I looked at used open office for the desktop applications. Most users, particularly home based consumers, would not consider open source (OS) open office and would instead select to have Microsoft products preloaded. However the target market for mini-laptops is consumers looking for a second, more mobile laptop computer or the education market. In both cases they are either spending their own hard earned cash or budget in short supply and may well choose the lower cost, Linus/Open Office models. By gaining familiarity with these free software products they are pretty quickly going to start wondering why they are paying so much for Microsoft products in other areas. Once this happens they will start influencing the companies/organisations they work for and the snow ball will start to gather momentum.
With the edcation market the influence is even greater, albeit over a longer time period. Students will get used to OS software and in doing so will not select to buy Microsoft as they get older and they will be happy with OS products when they start work. As adoption rises Microsoft will be forced to reduce the price of its products and specialise in more niche desktop software, or get into hardware. And this is not the only threat Microsoft will face.
As manufacturers develop their own applications, as they are already doing, they will slowly begin to mirror and compete with Apple and achieve the greater margins associated with the delivery of a product which they are almost 100% responsible for putting together. As mini laptop margins outstrip their bigger siblings, and consumer pressure for Microsoft products diminishes, we will see OS software and manufacturer software become more prevalent.
So there you have it. The world is about to change enormously and the good news is that the consumer is going to benefit at every step. I look forward to writing future posts on my new device and will comment on the usability when I can.