Right now, there’s a lot of debate among computing enthusiasts about whether Microsoft’s claim of 96% sales on netbooks is true… or meaningful. I tend to believe the percentages, but I don’t think it means what Microsoft seems to imply it means (“We’re better. People prefer us”). I do believe Windows users would rather stick with something familiar than switch to something else, especially if the two are around the same price. I also believe the Linux options on netbooks were badly marketed (and in many cases, badly implemented). It certainly doesn’t help that when you go to HP’s or Dell’s websites and try to order a Linux netbook, you’ll be told HP recommends Windows for everyday computing or Dell recommends Windows Vista Home Premium. Are you really going to tell me sales would have been the same if both the Linux and Windows pages said HP recommends Linux for everyday computing or Dell recommends Ubuntu Linux? Microsoft pays those OEMs money or cuts them deals to have those phrases plastered all over the sites, and with good reason.

Let’s see. I’m a consumer. I can go with Windows, which I’m already familiar with and which Dell recommends, or I can go with… U… bun… tu? which Dell doesn’t appear to recommend? And when I pick the Ubuntu option, Dell says I can “upgrade” to Windows (Windows is clearly better, since it’s an upgrade)? I think I’ll go with Windows. Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

So, yes, I can believe the 96%, but it doesn’t mean consumers were offered a fair choice and decided they liked Windows better and that Linux sucks. It means Microsoft strong-armed its way into the netbook marketplace, just as it always did with other markets. It’s like if we have a race and I bring my fans to the stadium and kick your fans out. Then I jam a cleat into your shin, stick gum on the bottom of your running shoes, and bat your ears just as the gun goes off. Oh, and the officials running the track meet are on my payroll. After I “win” the race, I brag to everybody that you’re slow. It doesn’t mean I’m a faster runner than you. It means I’m a bully and a cheat.

I have to confess I’m even tempted to get a Windows netbook myself, even though I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more Microsoft products, even if I’m just planning to install Linux right over it. Why? Look at the selection out there! I’ve checked NewEgg, Amazon, just about every vendor I can find, and the Linux selections keep getting slimmer and slimmer. And they also tend to be the older models. If I want to get the best netbook out there right now (in terms of hardware specifications and battery life), it’s about US$349 from Asus and runs Windows XP—it’s one of the newer Eee PCs. If I want to get the best Linux netbook available right now, it’s about US$500 from HP and doesn’t even have a third USB port or VGA out.

The most popular Linux netbook options out run Linpus Linux Lite (crippled Fedora) and a specialized (i.e., crippled) Xandros Linux. The Dell Mini 9 looks okay and gets decent reviews but doesn’t have a hard drive bigger than 16 GB. And the HP Mini Mie also looks great but is really expensive when spec’ed out and still hasn’t fully ironed out its Ubuntu implementation (even though their new interface for Ubuntu looks pretty).

Vendors, are you listening to me? If you can offer the following, I can guarantee you your Linux sales will be gangbusters:

  • Stop recommending Windows on your Linux netbook pages.
  • Offer a Linux netbook under US$400 with 7 or 8 hours of battery life, an actual hard drive with a lot of space, 3 USB ports, a 92%-95%-sized keyboard, and VGA out.
  • Use a Ubuntu variant but make sure the interface is useful and the video playback isn’t choppy

As long as the Linux options are crippled (either on the hardware or software fronts), then, yes, people will keep buying Windows netbooks. Some people may buy the Windows netbooks just to install Linux on them, but if Windows is either the only option, the cheapest option, the option with the best hardware features, or all three of the above, then Windows will continue to outsell Linux on the netbook front.

I’ll close with some excerpts from Amazon reviews:

Asus doesn’t offer the 1000HA with Linux. I don’t know what they’re thinking here. I’m forced to buy yet another Windows license that will never be used

I loaded Ubuntu Linux 8.10 to have a dual-boot system and I must say it runs Linux very well — no problems on the Linux side.

I bought this Windows XP model, just because there is no Linux equivalent of Eee PC 1000HA on sale(Asus, are you listening?).

Installed Easy Peasy linux, based… right out of the box. I did manage to hose windows xp, which is fine, since I’m not interested in running it

Linux was actually faster, and easier to set up (more plug and play, and no questions to answer). It started up each time much faster

I was primarily looking for a netbook with some form of linux installed on it, but I liked the size and battery life of this one so I went ahead and bought it.

I love my Eee PC 701. At some point I want to upgrade it, and I hope at that time there’ll be some decent Linux options out there.

8 Responses to “Windows and Linux on netbooks… what stays on?”

  1. stevewiilliams Says:

    I wrote a post on my own blog concerning this topic. I too believe the statistics, but Ubuntu is far better than XP, in my personal opinion.
    Windows 7, on the other hand, is far superior. Thankfully, Windows 7 Starter edition can run on netbooks – even ones using Atom processors. Unfortunately, Microsoft came up with the pathetic idea of a three-app limit, so you can only run three differnet applications at any one time. A bit stupid, considering Linux has no multitasking limits.
    I eagerly anticipate testing Ubuntu Netbook Remix when it comes out of beta.

  2. Timmy Macdonald Says:

    Were I offered two identical netbooks for the same price, but one came with XP, and the other with some kind of Linux, I’d pick XP. Why?
    1)I would probably prefer Ubuntu or Xubuntu to the alienated variant the OEM cooked up.
    2)Since I’m reinstalling the OS, I’d rather have a free XP license in my pocket–every now and then it comes in handy (StarCraft LAN party!)
    3)If the HD was big enough, dual-booting would be excellent.

  3. Scott Wells Says:

    I hear you and thought the same thing about the new Eee. Friends’ objections that “Microsoft isn’t making much on the license” holds little water anymore.

  4. Adam Says:

    Really what amazes me is that OEMs are still selling WinXP netbooks right now – the operating system’s mainstream support ends on Tuesday this week – 14 April 2009.

    http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifeselectwin

    Now I think that is criminal!

  5. Dan Says:

    Ubuntucat, I think you need to change careers. Given your knowledge of the system, your complaints about other vendors’ treatment of Ubuntu, and the fact you’ve supported a brick-and-mortar Ubuntu store for years… start one! Maybe you could even get some starter cash from Mark Shuttleworth.

  6. Mike Says:

    I do tend to agree with the OP. Computer vendors so far have been doing a lousy job with Linux, not all vendors, however. If you are in the US, do check out Zareason.com for a newer eeepc. It looks like right now they are out of stock, but, hopefully, not for long. Let’s send some business their way!
    http://www.zareason.com/shop/product.php?productid=16186&cat=0&page=1
    http://www.zareason.com/shop/product.php?productid=16178&cat=0&page=1

  7. anjilslaire Says:

    I agree with your sentiments, aysiu, but FYI my mini 9 shipped from Dell with Ubuntu & a 32gig SSD.

    Better than 16gig, but not enough for some, I know. I simply store everything else server-side on my desktop and have it shared on the network. 32gigs of local storage is enough in most cases I’ve found for netbook use.

  8. Adam Hunt Says:

    This topic seems to be getting some very interesting comments this week! It looks like many people are writing about it. Some worthwhile reading from other sources:

    * “Death of Linux on netbooks greatly exaggerated” by Ryan Paul Ars Technica http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2009/04/death-of-linux-on-netbooks-greatly-exaggerated.ars

    * “Microsoft, FUD and the netbook market” by Chris Kenyon – Canonical, OEM Services http://blog.canonical.com/?p=151

    * “Anti-Linux Propaganda du Jour: Windows Owns 96% Of Netbooks” By Carla Schroder http://blog.linuxtoday.com/blog/2009/04/windows-owns-96.html

    The last author concludes: ” The anti-Linux propaganda du jour, being dutifully parroted by “news” publications everywhere, is that Windows now owns 96% of the netbook market, and that Linux netbooks are returned four times more than windows netbooks. Both are untrue and have been debunked repeatedly. Yet they persist– why?”

    “I think Microsoft is growing increasingly desperate, and in hard economic times is finding equally desperate publications who will say anything for a few bucks. Which may be a harsh judgment, but I would rather believe that than believe they simply don’t care to do even the simplest, most basic fact-checking, or are such hard-core Microsoft fanboys that they are only pretending to be journalists when they are really stringers for Microsoft’s marketing department. How else can we explain the same nonsense repeated endlessly, their allergies to saying “Windows” and “malware” in the same sentence, the short shrift given to non-Windows software, the mind-boggling assumption that Windows is computing?”

Leave a Reply