For years, software and hardware have driven each other forward. Microsoft’s Vista is a prime example. Even with the confusion between “Vista Ready” and “Vista Capable”, it was clear: If you want Vista, you need ‘new’ hardware.
The problem is that most PC users didn’t actually need new hardware. For checking their email and writing papers, the Pentium 4 with Windows XP was still good enough for their needs.
Thus came the rise of NetBooks. ASuS started offering EeePC’s with linux as a new, tiny laptop in the $300 range. It quickly because Amazon.com’s best selling laptop and other PC manufacturer’s (HP, Lenovo) were quick to follow suit.
Sure they later offered XP on the EeePC, but at higher cost. And Vista on NetBooks so far has proved to be an epic fail as consumers complain about how doggy the performance is. What the consumer wanted was something cheap, quick, basic, and small. All the things Vista is not.
With the proven scalability of Linux, and the fact that Microsoft’s other competitor, Apple, was able to slim OSX down enough to fit on the iPhone, Microsoft is now aiming to slim down their upcoming mainstream OS, Windows 7, to compete on NetBooks.
What this means is that the open source communities were ahead of the curve by building systems geared toward end users from the beginning, because a lot of them were built by end users to perform well on less-than-new hardware. Now Microsoft is entering the NetBook game a day late and a dollar short.