April 11th, 2009
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.