On May 14th in a piece colorfully titled "Game Over For Linux Netbooks", Bill Weinberg wrote about a very high return rate for Intel Atom based netbooks:
...an Intel executive has stated that some of its computer resellers selling Intel Atom-based netbooks have seen 30 percent return rates.Note that the quoted story wasn't referring to netbooks running Linux. It was referring to all Intel Atom powered netbooks. I am assured over and over again by tech pundits like Mr. Weinberg that nowadays almost all those netbooks run Windows, not Linux.
The Brooke Crothers story quotes Intel marketing chief Sean Maloney as saying at an investor meeting yesterday that the main reason for the returns was that the resellers were not being honest with customers about the shortcomings of netbooks versus Pentium-based notebooks. "
Did it ever occur to people that Windows might actually be the cause of the disappointment customers face and the high returns? An insightful analysis in the tech-no-media blog on June 1st says precisely that and asks the question: "Is Windows killing the Netbook?"
... a lot of consumer that had purchased netbooks were returning them when they realized that these small machines were not able to perform all the tasks of a full size computer, like playing games or editing video."That's certainly true if you're running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7, all of which are significantly more resource hungry that any of the Linux distributions typically offered on netbooks. When you add anti-virus and anti-spyware software plus a personal firewall, the minimum requirements for a safe and secure Windows system, the poor netbook is so bogged down that performance is poor. The fact is that many tasks that are painful or even impossible on a Windows netbook are very doable on the same hardware running a well optimized Linux build.
At the computer show we were at on Sunday [...] there was another exhibitor there with a Win XP based netbook. In comparison to my Ubuntu powered netbook it was slow [like] wading through molasses to use. I commented on this, and the bloke said, well it's only supposed to be used for Web surfing and such, but I can't imagine that experience would be any too exciting. I pointed out that my Linux powered netbook was not only not slow, but was capable of being used as a highly portable stand in for my main desktop machine, he had nothing further to contribute.Like Ms. Barlow I have seen Windows versions of netbooks and was truly underwhelmed by the performace compared to my own system with nearly identical hardware running Linux. Ms. Barlow was fortunate enough to be able to demonstrate the difference between the operating systems in a public forum. Sadly, even in stores that still carry Linux netbooks most of the sales help simply doesn't have the knowledge and experience to do the same. Online retailers who carry both Linux and Windows netbooks also do nothing to tout the performance and security advantages of Linux. The typical consumer is used to and knows Windows so that is what they buy more often than not. They get the system home and the results are disappointing. Had they only been shown Linux as an alternative they might have been fully satisfied with their netbook purchase.
I managed to demonstrate just how responsive the Linux powered netbook is to quite a number of people, and explained to them that with Linux on the machine I was able to use the netbook as a stand in for my desktop machine while traveling.
It amazed me just how slow the Windows machine actually is. It's no wonder people are returning them in droves."
Microsoft may actually be benefiting from this state of affairs. They have been engaged in a full court press to do away with the netbook term completely and simply tout the systems as small, cheap, underpowered notebooks. If companies just make the machines a bit bigger and more powerful (not to mention more expensive) Windows will run fine and customers will be happy as clams. This also suits some hardware vendors who would like to move their customers up the product line to more expensive and more profitable machines.
Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers may also be misjudging consumers. Toshiba sold a lot of Libretto netbooks which weren't called netbooks from the mid '90s up until a couple of years ago, all at premium prices. There has always been a market for really small and really portable. There always will be. This is where Microsoft and Lenovo and yes, even Dell, HP, and Asus, are all now missing the boat. If they leave a void in the market someone else will step in and fill it. Many of the ARM powered systems recently announced are similar to the original EeePC in size and weight. Some are even slightly smaller and lighter. Asus wasn't considered a major systems vendor before the EeePC. The original 7" EeePC running Linux put them on the map. There are plenty of smaller, upstart vendors offering or preparing to offer ARM and MIPS based systems under $200, each and every one running Linux and able to do serious work. I expect some of them will succeed in the marketplace just as the original EeePC did. The small Linux powered netbook is here to stay.