The faithful told us that small, inexpensive, low powered Netbooks were to be the breakthrough product that Linux had always needed. They were perfectly tailored to suit Linux’s strengths (price, configurability, ease of localization).
When the Asus Eee 700/701 were released with a custom Xandros Linux distro, it seemed that the Linux faithful were exactly right and the open source OS had finally found a consumer market champion…but that didn’t last long. Soon, consumers were demanding the option to install XP instead of Linux. Then dedicated XP versions were being released by Asus to satisfy the market and they soon outsold the Linux versions despite the higher price tags . This then in turn ushered in the phenomenal initial growth of Netbooks. Now, Linux versions of Netbooks are really released only for hobbyists. The mainstream bread and butter is made with XP version sales.
Netbooks, which were hoped to finally establish a foothold in the consumer market for Linux, seem to have had the exact opposite effect. They have put paid once and for all to the belief that Linux will have a serious presence on the desktop any time soon, or be viable as a mainstream consumer OS. In the server room, sure Linux has a place, in fact I think over time Linux will come to utterly dominate the server market. However, will Joe and Judy Laptop ever embrace Linux on their home or work PCs?
Linux may look a lot like the Windows experience mainstream users are used to, it may talk like it, and walk like it…but deep down inside, consumers are consistently disappointed in it. The similarity betwen Linux and Windows is often enough to make a sale, especially since Linux machines are routinely a couple hundred dollers cheaper then XP/Vista PCs. However, as the user begins working with Linux, problems come up quickly. New, non-technical users continually cite endless misgivings about Linux… plug and play problems, a lack of the software titles they know and depend on, very few big budget games, a complex and confusing process for installing applications. No matter how cheap a computer my be in the store, it is too expensive if you then can’t use it.
The more technically minded and those who believe in Linux wholeheartedly may complain such users have been brainwashed by Microsoft, or haven’t the patience/skills/open-mindedness/intelligence to try any new OS, let alone Linux…but in the end there is a bottom line that they just can’t avoid….
…mainstream users don’t like Linux, and Linux doesn’t try very hard to change that.
Another case in point was described by MSi Director of US Sales Andy Tung in a recent interview with Laptop magazine…
It seems as though brick-and-mortar retailers have been hesitant to stock netbooks or have even ignored them, at least until now. Why do you think that is?
Retailers have been hesitant to bring netbooks into stores because at that moment they were afraid that the netbook category would eat at their notebook sales. They were also only selling the only available product from ASUS, and sales were only okay, and they struggled with return rates, especially of Linux systems. But now it has become more of a trend and these retailers just have to be in this business.
You mention the return rates being high. Has that been the case with the Wind as well?
We have done a lot of studies on the return rates and haven’t really talked about it much until now. Our internal research has shown that the return of netbooks is higher than regular notebooks, but the main cause of that is Linux. People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store. The return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks than Windows XP netbooks.
Return rates for Linux FOUR TIMES that of XP devices, and growth of the entire category slowed by using Linux? That is pretty damning indeed, especially if it is consistent across the industry…and looking at the overwhelming preponderance of Windows Netbooks over Linux versions, I have to assume it is.
Despite the brief surge in popularity of Linux in the first days of Netbooks, it has fallen again to the status of a niche OS, and more and more forum posts from Linux mavens are returning to the familiar refrain of “We like that Linux is hard to implement, proves it is the OS for those with the know-how to use it, not just some guy who bought a computer at Best Buy…”
However, without those guys just buying computers at Best Buy, Linux will never even come close to becoming what it was always envisioned to be…a viable competitor to Windows in the marketplace. If Linux can’t do it with Netbooks, I don’t think it ever will.