Netbooks are very small, lightweight, cheap laptops. For $350-600 you get a mini-laptop, perfect for surfing the web or writing a quick document. Many of them, as I've pointed out in previous posts, have open source software desktops.
The thing that's disappointing to me is that they all have their own Linux distribution. As a matter of fact, the Eee PC I talk about so much, comes with a custom version of Xandros that is based on Xandros and KDE. (I apologize if in previous releases I made it sound like it came with GNOME. It comes with KDE and a simplified desktop based on KDE. I think the simplified interface is probably quite good for a large percentage of users. And because it has a free and open source solution on it, you can put any other open source distribution and desktop you want on it. Which I think is a big strength. I put a disto with GNOME on it, however I go back to the default option often in hopes that they've fixed everything.) Xandros isn't alone in making a custom distribution. Dell worked with Canonical for a distribution for their netbook. Rumors have it that HP is making their own distribution for their netbook.
So why is this? Why do the netbook vendors make their own distribution? On one hand, I'm glad free software gives them the ability to make their own distribution. On the other hand, I worry that we aren't meeting their needs. (My Eee PC is not perfect whether it's running the standard distribution it comes with or one that I put on it.) I hope over time, as we get more netbooks into the hands of open source software developers, those developers will make KDE, GNOME and Linux in general work better on systems with small hard drives, screens and keyboards. Netbooks, like other mobile devices, have different needs than a full laptop. I hope we can live up to the challange quickly so that users have great free and open solutions.