I have posted several times before about how I see Linux entering the law office market, whether through big firms or through the back office (i.e. the servers). However, it has become apparent in the past few months that there is another inroad developing that may fast-track the OS into the legal market. This is the introduction and rise of the netbook.
More and more laptop users (and road warrior lawyers) have been discovering that they use their portable computers mainly for e-mail and web based applications. Thus people have been buying netbooks as secondary machines in order to have lightweight, highly portable computers for travel (here is a great post on the development of the netbook that explains this phenomenon). These netbooks often come with 512Mb to 1Gb of RAM, slower, more energy efficient microprocessors (Intel’s Atom for the most part), which means that the OS that runs on it must be lean and mean, a term seldom, if ever, applied to a Microsoft product. In fact, Vista, if it does run on a netbook, runs poorly, and Redmond has, as a result, made XP available to hardware companies for another two years.
Linux, on the other hand, because it can do more with fewer resources, is really the better OS candidate for netbooks. Also, because the machines are designed (and intended) to be used with web-based applications, they are more platform-independent, and thus do not run into the problems that Linux presents on the lawyer desktop (e.g. the lack of compatible verticle market apps like case management and bankruptcy software). The lack of cost for Linux also keeps the overall price down for netbooks and can make them more attractive.
I have been using the open source Mozilla Firefox web browser for years now and have found it easy to learn and use, which also goes for their e-mail client, Thunderbird. Google Docs and other web-based apps are already being used by many lawyers, and even if you need an offline solution, OpoenOffice is a great alternative that is easily downloaded and installed on the netbook (at least in the Ubuntu distribution, which is what is being installed on most Linux netbooks). The learning curve is not steep at all, and the increasing usage of Linux netbooks by lawyers may well overcome the phobia to change and encourage them at least to consider using Linux on their office systems. We can only hope.