The EeePC started as a niche product aimed at children. It was a huge hit, which surprised everybody -- even Asus. Microsoft noticed it, and started putting pressure on Asus . While reading around, I came across this interview with Benson Lin, which proces once more that Microsoft is tying up Asus and effectively killing the GNU/Linux version of the EeePC.
The interview touches on several topics, and yet the very beginning is what caught my eyes:
TechTree: States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka promote the Linux operating system in its education and government sectors. Will ASUS roll out Linux alternatives for the new 904HD and 1000H models in India?
Benson Lin: Currently, we're closely tied up with Microsoft and the EEE PC with Windows XP would be available to the Indian market. However, the Linux alternative would be a possibility based on specific grounds.
The answer is very, very carefully worded. Lin didn't say that the GNU/Linux version of the EeePC won't be available in India, but he clearly implied it. He didn't say that Microsoft tied them up so that they have to sell the XP version of the EeePC but he clearly implied it.
We will never, ever know what is actually going on behind the scenes. What you need to remember, is that the EeePC is only a fraction of what Asus offers. Asus is a laptop maker, and yes, their laptops obviously come with Windows Vista preinstalled. With the EeePC, there was a lot at stake and Microsoft knew it. Microsoft also knew that a lot of harm could be done to a company, Asus, that basically depended on them as an OEM.
So yes, a hardware maker which changes its strategy to please a monopolist is disturbing, although this is not the first time we see it -- and it won't be the last one either.
What I don't condone, is Asus' way of dealing with this change of direction. The GNU/Linux version of the EeePC is still available, but you don't often see it in normal shops. GNU/Linux has become the second choice, but Asus is very careful about not stating this much openly.
Eventually, Asus will probably stop selling the GNU/Linux version of their EeePC altogether. Also, their EeePC will become common notebooks, just a little bit smaller (this is not really a prediction: this is already happening).
Then, one of the makers of Netbooks will release a fantastic product using the paid Ubuntu/Netbook Remix, which will make us all forget about the EeePC -- or, maybe we'll remember it as one of the makers which used GNU/Linux in order to launch a product, and then gave in to Microsoft's pressure.
The real question is: will the next maker manage to resist Microsoft's pressure? Or will everybody end up closely tied up with Microsoft?