Linux Netbooks: Return Rates Are Not the Issue

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 13, 2009

Ever since netbooks--low priced, ultra-mobile computers with very low price points--became a hot hardware category, with both Linux and Windows versions available, reports have flown around saying that the return rates for Linux netbooks are vastly higher than return rates for Windows machines. Kevin Turner, Microsoft's COO, helped fuel the fire by saying that return rates for Linux netbooks are more than four times higher than return rates for Windows netbooks, here. "I challenge you to find a retailer who wants to sell Linux on these netbooks, because the returns are bad," Turner said.

That position has been challenged a number of times, with the most serious challenges coming from netbook manufacturers. Asus' CEO has said that return rates for Linux netbooks are no higher than they are for Windows systems. He ought to know, and he's also said that Linux netbooks are quite popular in Europe, where overall open source adoption is high. Now, as The Register reports, Dell, the number two computer manufacturer in the world, is refuting Turner's position as well.

The Register cites Todd Finch, Dell senior product marketing manager, speaking at Open Source World, as saying that return rates are no higher for Linux netbooks than they are for Windows netbooks. (Dell sells Linux and Windows netbooks.) He called the returns a "non-issue." "They are making something of nothing," The Register quotes Finch as saying, referring to Microsoft, which has seen the low prices on netbooks help shave its profit margins.

Notably, Joe Brockmeier, OpenSUSE Community Manager at Novell, who has written for OStatic, appeared with Finch, and The Register quotes him as saying this:

"If you take my marketing budget, add it to Ubuntu and Red Hat's marketing budget it's not even a rounding error for Microsoft. For us to generate the market awareness to say: 'I want Linux on a netbook' is going to be incredibly hard because we don't have the tools to do that."

In his post here on OStatic all the way back in April of last year, Brockmeier made this point about Linux and marketing:

"If you took the marketing budgets of all the Linux vendors combined, and then doubled that figure, and then added a zero, you might start approaching what Microsoft spends on marketing Windows. Maybe. The ad councils for various industries have the right idea -- it's a good idea to pool your money to grow the market when you're jointly competing with another industry."

Exactly. This remains the problem that Linux netbooks face, and the problem is not return rates. Microsoft has, for years, seeded the retail channel with financial and other types of incentives designed to promote Windows on all types of machines. It will continue to do so, especially as Windows 7 arrives. The very best thing for keeping Linux alive on netbooks would be for Linux backers and vendors to pool resources for effective, coordinated marketing. That's crucial if Linux is to continue to maintain a foothold in the fast-growing netbook market.