Microsoft, FUD and the netbook market

Microsoft, FUD and the netbook market

Brandon Le Blanc from Microsoft posted an interesting post about Netbooks and Linux last week. While we agreed with his comments about customers wanting choice and looking for outstanding hardware options, we disagree with much of his analysis and unsurprisingly the overall ‘spin’ of the post.

While FLOSS software has been improving year on year, the launch of the Asus eeePC with Linux in late 2007 sparked a extraordinary chain of events. We saw an increase in the number of models of computers shipping with Linux, the acceleration of the PC industry’s knowledge of how to work in a non-Windows environment and the repeated extension of XP’s shipping life.

The launch of Windows 7 this year will see the beginning of new chapter in the competition to deliver choice and great customer experiences on standard PC hardware. That is the future – it is worth sharing our perspective on what has happened to date.

Customers welcome choice

We all know that customers like choice and we also know that competition is always good for consumers. We are humble enough as an open source project and company to know that not everyone will want to use Ubuntu. However here is an interesting fact – when customers are offered choice on equally well-engineered computers around a third will select Ubuntu over XP.

Ubuntu offers

  • a safe, virus free environment without having to run expensive anti-virus software that slows PCs down
  • great open source software like Firefox and OpenOffice.org
  • an operating system that boots quickly and stays responsive after years of use

Of course there is a significant benefit for users who do not select Ubuntu or another Linux distribution. The price of XP crashed last year due to competition. So even if you bought a netbook last year with XP – feel free to smile when you see an Ubuntu PC. It’s amazing what an open market can achieve.

Return rates on Linux – Separating fact from FUD

The really big news for the industry is that well-engineered Linux netbooks have similar return rates to XP. What makes a real difference to return rates is not whether it’s Linux or not, but the quality of the device’s hardware and the ability to fully partake in web and media experiences, such as:

  • Adobe Flash player being pre-installed
  • Basic media codecs being pre-installed (these add a few dollars to the cost of a PC)
  • Extensive hibernate and resume cycle testing (many OEMS have had to develop and implement new QA processes to work with Linux)

Customers have every right to expect these basics in their netbooks and we recommend them to manufacturers. Even with Ubuntu’s philosophical and technical opposition to proprietary software, we are clear about the importance of these plug-ins to average consumers. Hey, we even recommend the purchasing of Windows Media Audio and Video codecs to OEMs!

The PC industry learning how to ship with Linux / Ubuntu

Not too long ago, not a single PC manufacturer was shipping Ubuntu. As we go into 2009 – we have never had as many manufacturers nor as many devices being prepared to launch as we do now.

Dell, HP, and Toshiba are all shipping Ubuntu. In Taiwan and China, the extraordinary chain of suppliers who make computers at under $500 possible are learning how to work efficiently with high levels of quality assurance on Linux.

People shouldn’t expect every manufacturer in the market to ship with Linux. It takes time and investment to learn how to do well. Slowly but surely those numbers are growing meaning more units with Ubuntu.

Peripheral Support

Brandon proudly boasts to an admittedly impressive level of peripheral support for Microsoft – the clear implication being that Linux does not match it. Ubuntu and most Linux distributions support over 3000 printers over 1000 digital cameras, and over 200 webcams. It also supports them without the need to search for drivers on dubious websites or load drivers from a CD. Just plug and play.

Looking forward

We are tremendously excited about the netbook category, about launching PCs based on the next version of Ubuntu 9.04 – wow they boot fast. We see continued innovation with the launch of products that support multi-touch, continue to extend battery life and integrate 3G connectivity and GPS functionality.

Most of all – we look forward to continuing to deliver great product to customers who value choice. We are not saying that all of the world should or will use Ubuntu, however the suggestion that customers don’t like Linux is the sort of oversimplification that a great data-driven company like Microsoft might want to steer clear of.

Chris Kenyon – Canonical, OEM Services

P.S Continually repeating that we ‘confirmed’ a 4x return over XP when we did nothing of the sort is really not worthy of a great company like Microsoft. If we are going to compete, let’s do it on real facts and actual statements. You’re better than that, Redmond 🙂

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