Linux ready to replace Windows? Not yet…

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • This only proves that people are creatures of habit, and they have years

    using Windows. Non-technical people that are not involved in the technical issues, and do not know what Linux is (yet), will not be happy with Linux laptops unless there is somebody to tell them what they are getting and help them through the first month or so.

    And, as some are tied to Windows only applications, Linux is not an options at all right now, no matter how good it is.
    • It is not that they are creatures of habit,

      You give way too little credit to the intelligence of your fellow man.

      It is not that they are "creatures of habit",
      but instead have a set of requirements that can not be met by Linux.

      If those requirements are to be able to start the computer, install their existing software and files, use their existing hardare, use what they already know, what advantage does Linux give them? Nothing.

      And who are you to say that is wrong? I am sure you have your own regiment of places, foods, and brands you stick to, why is that acceptable, but it's not acceptable to apply that same logic to an operating system?

      Interesting thought.
      • Still, it has nothing to do with how easy Linux is to use or how it works.

        It only has to do with available applications, the fact that they have years using Windows, and that service, support, and help for Windows is much more readily available.

        And, nobody is insulting the intelligence of the average user. They can be very intelligent and creative, but, their life does not revolve around computers, and they have years using one interface, they do not understand why they should learn something else. Linux is a big unknown for them. And, that does not imply ANYTHING about their intelligence.

        In fact, Linux is much better in many areas, but, the average user does not understand all of this. The process of diffusion of innovation is not overnight.
        • You're right

          Never thought I'd say that! ;)

          In addition, don't underestimate the value of time. These days, people have a lot of competition for their time and energy. They are likely to be worried about their job, and the idea of being unproductive is not appealing. Better the devil you know than the one you don't.
          Ed Bott
          • It's the apps too!

            Never forget *all* the applications. It's not just games, it's all the oddball stuff like diabetic test meters, pilot software, golf score databases, rock hound software, and on and on...

            Wine is not the solution to any of that.
          • Wine is not the solution to any of that.

            Don't be so certain. $DAUGHTER is using a screwball RCA voice recorder in her research and for whatever reason RCA keeps the data in a format all their own. They also provide a Microsoft downloadable utility for managing the files and converting them to reasonable stuff like WAV.

            While she was disconnected from the Net, I went to RCA's site and downloaded the utility update, pointed my file manager at the download, launched it, and watched the installer come up under WINE. Once installed, I ran it on a test file she sent me and everything went smoothly; end result a perfectly usable WAV file that can be churned by any toolchain around.

            Bottom line: don't discount WINE. It's surprisingly good.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Much like Blu-ray "support" (read: hacks) in Linux....

            WINE still uses API's and intellectual property which Microsoft hasn't fully licensed. Likewise, portions of Windows are reverse-engineered, which stands against the Windows EULA, so it's not legal. The fact that Microsoft hasn't addressed it doesn't mean that they won't in the future, and it's not exactly going to be a trip in the park for the developers around fair-use or anti-trust regulations. Try as you might to dance around Richard Stallman hippy free-software sentiments, but breaking copyrights and causing patent infringement is also breaking the law.
          • Yes, MS will continue, at least for the short term to use FUD about IP to

            slow adoption of Linux. And, yes, Windows almost always gets support for devices before Linux. Manufacturers know the current percentages of market share . . . .

            But, these things have nothing to do with whether of not Linux is better or easier to use than Windows.
          • @Joe_Raby - No and No ...

            [i]WINE still uses API's and intellectual property which Microsoft hasn't fully licensed. [/i]

            WINE does nothing of the sort. It's a compatibility layer that works with Windows programs, a re-implementation of Windows. WINE is open source so if the code infringed on Microsoft's intellectual property then Codeweavers, the projects sponsor, would have been visited by Microsoft's legal department many moons ago.

            [i]Likewise, portions of Windows are reverse-engineered, which stands against the Windows EULA, so it's not legal.[/i]

            EULAs have never been tested in court as a legally binding contract plus reverse engineering to obtain technical knowledge of a product is perfectly legal both here in the United States and abroad.

            [i]The fact that Microsoft hasn't addressed it doesn't mean that they won't in the future ...[/i]

            Well if their intellectual property is being infringed then under the Doctrine of Laches Microsoft must act in a timely manner or they would be barred from resolution in court.

            In addition failure to act on claims of infringements would be considered diluting shareholder value. Microsoft themselves could become the target of a shareholder lawsuit if they fail to protect such valuable intellectual property.

            [i]... and it's not exactly going to be a trip in the park for the developers around fair-use or anti-trust regulations.[/i]

            As for fair-use that extends only to copyrighted works, not patent infringement which is different. A patent is a government sanctioned monopoly on an invention or process for a specific number of years. A copyrighted work is right that is given to an individual or entity to control the distribution of such works for a specific number of years.

            Anti-trust regulations only apply to those that have a dominate position in the marketplace or who colluded with others to obtain the same. With either situation developers would not be subject to anti-trust provisions only the companies who would break such regulations.

            If you taking about patents then developers already ignore software patterns because they're too broad in scope to determine if they are applicable to the projects they're working on.

            What developers typically deal with is licensing issues of copyrighted works with the various licenses available to release their work. Normally they do not deal with fair-use issues unless somehow they are using a copyrighted work without the owners permission or its intended method of distribution.

            [i]...breaking copyrights and causing patent infringement is also breaking the law. [/i]

            Well that's self-evident, but you still failed to prove how WINE is breaking any of these laws. ;)


            Also the Blue-ray "hacks" do not violate traditional copyright or patent law, but they may violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). They reason it may violate the act is that you're not circumventing the copy protection, but using an actually key to unlock a legally obtained work. These issues have not been tested in court. The DMCA doesn't apply to any other countries except the United States.
          • "against the Windows EULA, so it's not legal"

            Sorry, I know you probably wish it were true, but no, Microsoft does not yet have the power to create and enforce laws.

            I can make an EULA that says you're only allowed to use my software while wearing purple socks. It's meaningless.
          • My personal bet is that. . . .

            This is one of the main problems Vista is having, too. It's different enough to cause problems . . .
          • Another issue is that people can not upgrade older hardware, and the

            impression in general that Vista needs a lot more memory and processing power.
          • Let this dead horse die already!

            Why upgrade old hardware when you can buy new hardware for so little ($300)? Here is a computer I was recently given:


            Only it had 256MB of RAM (half was removed). To upgrade this system to Vista would cost:

            1 x $130 Vista Home Premium Upgrade
            2 x $20 512MB DDR memory (Total 1GB)
            1 x $45 AGP Video Card

            Total: $215. Difference: $85. That $85 buys me 90GB more HD, 1Gbps ethernet, 1.83GHz dual cores, and a brand new system. Benchmarks with Cinebench R10 show the $300 completing the single core test in ~7 minutes, the multicore test in ~3.5 minutes. The older system completed the test in ~9 minutes even though it is clocked 1.14GHz faster.

            It just doesn't make sense to upgrade older hardware (though the older system runs Vista just fine with 1GB of RAM).
          • My reply to ye is below, sorry

          • Microsoft would have done themsleves ...

            ... a favor if they had left a lot of folders and utilities in their "XP locations". Vista brings a lot to the table but some people panic when you move stuff around unnecessarily.
            M Wagner
          • I can't tell you how much...

            I hate when they do that. Moving stuff around for no other apparent reason than to make it look different is extremely irritating. In some cases, such as arranging control panel into groups of applets instead of displaying them all together, it's a backwards step because you have extra clicks and on top of that have to figure out which category they put a particular applet in.

            I always end up putting control panel back to Classic view.
          • Some of the changes make sense.. Some not..

            I dunno.. Changing things from

            C:\Documents and Settings\UserID\



            makes for less typing. It kinda makes sense when you're in the command prompt mode and you're hunting for something or other.
          • With that attitude

            Mankind would have never descended from the trees. Once you never knew how to use a computer, a mobile phone, a video recorder etc, etc - it was a steep learning curve.
            Windows has not really changed that much since windows 2000 and cannot change easily due to the very reasons that you have given. People do not want it to change as they are used to it (or certain people). If you want windows go - go buy windows, if you want to do things differently or have different ideas choose linux or mac. A uniform ecosystem is very bad from an evolutionary point of view - it stifles choice, invention and competition.

            If Henry Ford had his way we would all still be driving Model - Ts
            Alan Smithie
          • Model T's...

            Might not be such a terrible thing... Except for the fact they're woefully underpowered, uncomfortable, smog producing rattle traps.
        • No compelling reason to switch.

          No compelling reason to even think about using another OS. If what i am using just works,does everything i ask of it there is no other reason other then to mess around with it. I have tried Gimp,Thunderbird,Blender" Absolutely Horrid Interface,learning curve" and a bunch more free programs made for Windows. Another reason not to switch,theres a windows version for all theses programs.
          It great for servers,programs for small devices with no user intervention needed. But for Normal users there just no reason to switch.And another thing why waste all the money we have spent on the programs we do use and Linux doesn't have a copy of every program we use.