As low-cost laptop sales in developing countries heat up, the discussion of appropriate operating system software has gotten louder. Some recent press reports say Linux may not be the answer because users find it hard to use and Asus, the segment leader, believes that Eee PCs with Windows XP preloaded will account for 2/3 of all sales worldwide. Others argue that using Linux operating systems enables manufacturers to offer a full software suite at a dramatically reduced purchase price and that Windows Vista won’t work on the stripped-down hardware configurations of the low-cost laptops. Microsoft, which has opted to continue to make Windows XP available to hardware vendors beyond its original retirement date, has so far stuck to its revised June 2008 deadline to end all Windows XP sales - making this a critical issue for low-cost laptop manufacturers.
Most industry watchers would agree that the emerging low-cost laptop segment is gaining traction because of its "purpose-built" approach. Rather than creating lower-performing versions of existing models, manufacturers, which many say were inspired by the One Laptop Per Child Initiative, created entirely new solutions. This disruptive technology was not over-loaded with bells and whistles – as many engineering achievements are – but instead focused on a few core requirements and delivered “just enough” functionality. To date, the software industry has focused less on a purpose-built approach for emerging markets and more on identifying which existing software suites fit the hardware requirements.
Business leaders developing strategies for low-cost laptops in emerging markets would do well to put aside the debate over Open Source versus proprietary software and instead focus on the modifications that suit both the platform and the target markets. The recent success of new laptop characteristics such as low-cost, low-power, ruggedized laptops demonstrates that solutions designed specifically for the unique requirements of rapidly expanding emerging markets are needed and valued by users. The opportunity for the software industry is to build or modify operating systems that both address the features and functionality desired by developing-country users and operate efficiently on low-cost laptops.
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