Monday, May 16, 2005

Europe, U.S. differences on computers

Dan Gillmor finds it odd that customers in Europe can buy a "big name" laptop with Linux, while people in the U.S. can't. I think it's because Linux has penetrated further in Europe than elsewhere for a number of reasons.

- Europe has been more accepting of alternatives in the computer industry for at least a decade. The region is the home -- or at least the birthplace -- of many prominent open source projects. Linux came out of Finland, the Web was developed at CERN and many heavily-used computer languages such as Python came via Europe. Whether that's important for the operating system market is another question. OS/2 was big here, too. It flopped.

- Unlike some parts of Asia and South America, Europe is relatively affluent and less likely to pirate Windows and Office. In China, for example, You can buy both Windows XP and Office together on a (pirate) DVD for about a dollar. Why bother with Linux? In Europe, they also want to save money, but legally. In operating systems and applications software, that means open source.

- European governments and businesses seem to be catching on quicker than in the U.S. that the Microsoft tax is taking a bigger and bigger chunk of the computer budget, as hardware costs decline. Maybe it's just pride, but the result is that the most prominent "wins" for Linux lately have been in Europe. The U.K. government estimated that schools could save millions by using open source. The governments of Munich and Paris have also recently decided to go that route, and not just as a bargaining chip with Microsoft.

- Computer spending worldwide isn't growing at the same fast pace, meaning PC makers have to work harder for every percentage point of growth. If U.K., French and German governments and schools are going to use Linux, that's a percentage point that HP and IBM can't just leave to the smaller, national white box (generic) PC makers.

- Laptops in Europe aren't just used by the Powerpoint set (i.e., corporate users that must use Windows and Microsoft Office). In my experience, more consumers buy laptops here than in the U.S. They fit better in the smaller homes. You can put a laptop in a drawer when you're finished with it, or use it at the local cafe. More Americans have a spare room, or just buy both a desktop and a laptop.

The result of all this is more demand for Linux, simple as that. Not much more, mind you, but enough.

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