Around a year ago, netbooks were emerging as a new platform and Linux was the operating system of choice, as Windows Vista was just too fat and resource-heavy to run properly on the smaller devices with less computing power.
Microsoft’s retaliation was to make Windows XP, the aging operating system that’s harder to kill than Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” movies, available for netbooks.
The result? Windows has gone from 10 percent of the netbook market last year to 96 percent of the market this year, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Microsoft is in full crow mode over the news. “Not only are people overwhelmingly buying Windows, but those that try Linux are often returning it,” wrote Windows communications manager Brandon LeBlanc on the Official Windows Blog.
“Both MSI — a leading netbook PC OEM — and Canonical — the vendor supporting the commercial distribution of Ubuntu Linux — stated publicly they saw Linux return rates four times higher than Windows,” he added.
“Why such a disparity? Because users simply expect the Windows experience. When they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn’t deliver that same quality of experience, they get frustrated and take it back.”
He went on to say “We can confidently say that no matter how netbook PC hardware evolves, we’re gearing up to ensure that Windows 7 will run great on them,” LeBlanc states.
Microsoft’s pricing strategy has worked as well. Paul Thurott of WindowsITPro noted that the netbook version of Windows XP is estimated to cost less than one-quarter the price of the versions Microsoft provides for other types of PCs.
But there are caveats. The NPD numbers were for the U.S., which is not the largest market for netbooks, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (collectively known as EMEA) make up 80 percent of the market, according to IDC, and a variety of netbook makers are available there, some of which sell Linux systems.
IDC analyst Richard Shim thinks the percentage might be a little bit high, but it’s possible. “We’ve seen Linux quickly lose share to Microsoft, particularly to Windows XP, over the last 3 quarters,” he told InternetNews.com. “It was a combination of things. Linux was one of the problems. Linux was a big obstacle for many mainstream users to overcome.”
Netbooks had a high return rate early on, partly because the advertisements gave no sense of scale and people didn’t realize what they were buying. But difficulty with Linux also went down, and IDC noticed that as Linux penetration of the market dropped, so did the return rates.
However, Microsoft should not sit too comfortably. With carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T looking to offer netbooks tied to a service contract, like they do with phones, costs have become an issue, and Google’s free operating system, Android, has emerged as a potential alternative OS for these netbooks.