Sep 282015

Will history repeat itself with the rumored Xiaomi Linux notebook?

That’s the billion dollar question on many minds at Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba and HP.

It’s a gross understatement that Xiaomi smartphones have taken Asia by storm.

With sleek designs, powerful internals and affordable prices, Xiaomi’s smartphones, tablets and TVs are quickly snapped up by eager consumers in China, India, Singapore and other parts of Asia.

Xiaomi is the largest smartphone vendor in China and the company is wildly popular among the 25-35 age group.

If Xiaomi’s smartphone business is any guide, its Linux notebooks should be trailblazers too.

Foray into Notebooks

The rumor mills predict Xiaomi’s Linux notebooks will arrive in early 2016.

While details of the Linux notebooks are still sketchy, here’s what we know.

Xiaomi’s notebooks will be powered by a Intel processor and Chinese assembler Inventec Appliance Corporation will put the laptop together.

From a design perspective, the Xiaomi notebook may look similar to Apple’s slim MacBook Air notebooks.

I would not be surprised to see Xiaomi notebooks come with solid state drives (for faster performance) with a robust cloud storage complement.

Expect the Xiaomi notebook to cost between $450-$500.

Will Xiaomi be able to make money in notebooks when every PC vendor save Apple is struggling?

Linux notebooks offers Xiaomi design flexibility, tons of free software and a lower price-point since the underlying operating system is free.

Notebooks also fit into Xiaomi’s ecosystem strategy.

Xiaomi’s Vice President Hugo Barra explained the company’s ecosystem approach last year at a smartphone launch event in India:

We are not looking to make profits out of selling our phones. Our phones are just the starting point. We will make our money in the long run from an ecosystem around our devices. Like Amazon who built Kindle, Fire Phone, and invested in technology to boost its core ecommerce. Similarly, our phones are just a means to an end, and not the end.

So while Xiaomi may not see profits immediately from its notebook foray, expect the company to integrate its smartphones, TVs, tablets, notebooks and other gizmos into a profitable ecosystem the way Apple has done neatly with iPhone, iPad tablets, iTunes, iMac/MacBook, App Store and iWatch.

Which Linux Distro?

Assuming the Xiaomi Linux notebook rumor is true, the big question is which Linux distribution will form the underpinning of the laptop.

Currently Linux Mint is the most user-friendly distribution for those new to Linux.

Will Xiaomi go with Linux Mint or will it put out a custom Linux distro with a unique user interface layer just as it has done to its Android smartphones with the MIUI layer.

Whichever Linux distribution Xiaomi ends up choosing, the notebooks will give a huge boost to Linux on the desktop.

Although Linux distributions like Linux Mint and Ubuntu have done commendable work in making Linux user-friendly and tons of free software are available in virtually every category, widespread consumer adoption of Linux notebooks (or Linux desktop PCs for that matter) is still lacking. Linux has been mostly relegated to use in servers.

The overwhelming majority of laptop users in the world have gone with either Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OS X operating systems.

Perhaps Xiaomi notebooks will provide Linux the necessary push and excitement to make significant inroads into the consumer arena and emerge as a strong alternative to Windows and OS X.

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