Linux ready to replace Windows? Not yet…

Summary:Is Linux ready to replace Windows on the desktop? Linux advocates think that light, cheap netbooks show off the advantages of an open-source OS over Windows. Out in the real world, though, the market is arguing to the contrary. The director of sales for one especially hot-selling netbook says its Linux-based machines are being returned at four times the rate of the Windows version. Research shows that after playing around with Linux, people "don't want to spend the time to learn it, so they bring it back to the store."

Over at JKOnTheRun, James Kendrick uncovers a fascinating statistic originally published in Laptop Magazine:

Andy Tung, Director of US Sales for MSI … told Laptop that their experience shows that netbooks with Linux are returned four times more often than those with Windows XP.  This would indicate what others have already noted, many consumers pick up the cheaper systems and then realize that the Linux system is not what they are used to so they return it.

And this is for a product that is targeted at early adopters who are far more technically sophisticated than average; the MSI Wind is a tiny, dirt-cheap portable PC that has been selling like gangbusters to the digital elite and gadget freaks since its launch in June. I would assume that this audience would be more forgiving of rough edges and usability gotchas than more mainstream PC buyers. This comment by MSI’s Andy Tung from the original interview highlights the uphill struggle that PC makers have when dealing with Linux:

Our internal research has shown that … the main cause [of the higher return rates for Linux-based machines] 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 interviewers interrupt at this point to note that they “struggled with the Linux version of the Wind U90” as well and ask whether the company plans to customize a Linux OS for the machine instead of using an off-the-shelf distro:

We plan to bring the Linux version to the U.S by the end of the year. But we are working on some of the issues with the SUSE Linux and even continue to explore other flavors of Linux. We have discussed Ubuntu with a Mac OS type of look and feel. We are talking to different suppliers to figure out the best user experience.

Finding software developers to build and support a great user experience that ties hardware and software together isn’t cheap or easy. It’s hard to imagine how that job can get done at all, much less be done well, on a PC that sells for $399 or less.

I have a couple of Linux-based systems here that I use occasionally for testing and just to stay on top of what’s happening in the wide world of computing.  I have been impressed with the way that popular Linux distros like Ubuntu have improved with each new release; these days, Linux is a great choice for technically sophisticated users who don’t mind being far, far out of the mainstream. But for people who don’t have the time or the inclination to make fundamental changes, it’s a nonstarter. If I were to switch to Linux for daily use, I would have to dramatically change my work habits and learn to use a very different set of tools than I use today. The same would be true of any of my home or small business clients.

As someone who writes about Windows for a living, I get a disproportionate amount of feedback from people who argue that open-source software is a panacea and that dumping Windows for Linux is the answer to every problem that affects the Windows ecosystem. The market is doing a pretty good job of proving that they’re wrong, as this example shows.

Topics: Operating Systems, Linux, Open Source, Software, Windows

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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