Think for a moment about the hardware specification in the Eee PC 900 - a 900MHz Celeron M backed up by 1GB of RAM. A machine with that kind of spec would have a snowball's chance in hell of running Vista, in fact you probably couldn't even get it to install in the first place. But with Linux installed, that specification makes for a pretty fast system, that can do almost anything that a fully featured Vista notebook can do. Meanwhile, the fact that you can run Windows XP on an Eee PC just goes to prove how much more of a resource hog the latest version of Windows is compared to the last.
I don't want you thinking that I'm a Microsoft basher, because that really isn't the case. In fact I have a huge amount of respect for Microsoft; especially its efforts in making the PC a ubiquitous platform. When it comes down to it, creating a complex operating system that will run on any one of a million different hardware configurations is no mean feat, and the guys at Redmond really do deserve a pat on the back for it. The point I'm making however, is that sometimes, often even, a complex operating system simply isn't necessary.
Think for a moment about what you actually use your Windows PC for. I'm sure that many of you are citing web browsing (obviously because you're reading this column), email, word processing, spreadsheet work etc. And all of that can be done simply, quickly and cheaply under a Linux environment. But most end users, especially consumers, don't want to learn about an open source OS, they just want to turn their PC on and have it work the way they know and understand it. Some of us may be happy to download the latest Linux distribution and search out all the relevant drivers for our hardware, but the vast majority of PC users have neither time nor the inclination.
All of which brings us back to the Eee PC once more. If end users are presented a very simple and easy to understand method of accessing all the PC functionality that they need, then the transition to a non-Windows platform isn't so daunting. Even the most technology frightened consumer can figure out that they should click the Internet tab on the Eee PC desktop if they're looking to browse the web.
I don't believe for one moment that Asus will have this market to itself for long though, with HP already having announced a similar device to the Eee PC in the shape of its forthcoming Mini-Note. But I can't help but wonder whether we'll see manufacturers adapt current models, rather than try to copy what Asus has done. Imagine if you could buy a Sony TZ for a fraction of the price, running Intel's new Atom platform, sporting only 1GB of RAM, limited solid state storage and a basic Linux build as the OS, complete with open source applications. You'd basically be getting everything that's desirable about Sony's ultra-portable flagship, but without the baggage of Vista and the hardware necessary to run it.
It's perhaps a stretch that the big notebook manufacturers will start offering cut down versions of their flagship machines though, there's just too much invested in those Windows Vista based platforms. That said, Asus has definitely proved that there's a market for no frills, simple and efficient mobile computers, and it's probably just a matter of time before the rest of the industry gets in on the act.