Netbook returns blamed on Linux 'teething problems'

Netbook returns blamed on Linux 'teething problems'

Summary: Higher return rates for Linux-based netbooks don't necessarily reflect badly on the open-source operating system, according to Ubuntu backer Canonical

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The return rate on Linux-powered netbooks may be higher than that for Windows netbooks, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing for Linux, according to Canonical.

Canonical, which sponsors the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, was responding to figures released last week by MSI, the maker of the Wind netbook.

In an interview with Laptop Magazine, MSI said its studies showed its Suse Linux-based ultraportables were returned at a rate four times higher than Windows-based Wind machines.

That bears out Canonical's experience with netbooks based on Ubuntu, said Canonical marketing manager Gerry Carr. "We're seeing similar types of return rates for our machines," Carr told ZDNet.co.uk.

However, such figures shouldn't distract from the fact that Linux is, in general, proving a great success on netbooks, Carr said.

"Return rates are higher, but they're not high," he said. "Return rates are low. That they're higher than with Windows XP, a technology that has been around for 20 years, is understandable."

Canonical first demonstrated a netbook version of Ubuntu in June, and is now working with several equipment manufacturers, including Toshiba, whose Ubuntu-powered, 8.9-inch NB100 is set to reach the UK this month.

Carr emphasised that even if some users have been disappointed, the fact remains that low-cost ultraportables such as Asus's Eee PC have managed for the first time to bring Linux to a wide user base. "Some teething problems are to be expected with a new technology," he said.

In September, Amazon.com said Linux-based netbooks were among the top-selling laptops. During the month of August, 12 of the best-selling netbooks were based on Linux, six supported Windows XP and two supported Vista, Amazon told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, ZDNet.com. Linux buyers seemed to be motivated by lower prices compared with Windows-based netbooks, Amazon said.

Some users seem to buy Linux-based netbooks without fully realising what they're buying, Carr said. "Some people are misbuying, and then they send it back because it's not Windows," he said. "What would be more worrying would be if they simply didn't like it for itself — if they used it and it didn't work. But that doesn't seem to be the case."

In MSI's particular case, the Wind's Suse Linux implementation has been criticised for serious shortcomings, such as problems connecting to wireless networks, Carr noted.

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  • Lots of Possible Explanations...

    Wow, does this lend itself to a lot of possible explanations. This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, as I have been setting up more of my friends with Linux systems rather than Windows.

    The first, and most obvious, explanation is in the last paragraph... if it has "serious shortcomings", and in particular if it has problems connecting to wireless networks, that is likely to cause a significant number of people to return them. I just hope that something like that, which is obviously limited to that specific implementation, based on my experiences with Ubuntu and Mandriva, doesn't give Linux in general a black eye at this critical early stage.

    However, beyond whatever functional problems there might be, there are issues that are likely to cause Linux netbooks (and notebooks) to be returned. The first is simply incorrect purchasing - buyers who order the lowest price unit they can find, and then are surprised to find that it doesn't have Windows. There's not much that can be said or done about this.

    Second, though, are those who buy Linux netbooks/laptops, and then find that some favorite application doesn't work. This could be anything from MS Office to Quicken/Money to Photo Shop, or lots of other things. I've run into this with friends several times already, and the important thing is first to point them to the obvious alternative, if there is one - OpenOffice instead of MS Office, or GIMP/F-Spot instead of Photo Shop - or look around for an alternative, if you aren't aware of one. This is what I am doing right now with Quicken, for example, and I was surprised to find three or four different possibilities once I really looked. However, in the end, I think a certain number of Linux systems are going to be returned just because people can't run application <i>xyz</i> on them, and they are not willing to adjust or accept an alternative.

    Finally, of course, there are going to be those who return them, even though they knew they were getting Linux and not Windows, just because they decide they don't like it. Screens are different, buttons are different, whatever, it just doesn't fit for them.

    I would be interesting to know what the actual return rates are, for Windows and Linux.

    jw 10/10/2008
    j.a.watson1
  • Wind's Suse Linux Implementation

    In my own experience, internet connectivity has been an ongoing matter of contention in SuSe Linux over the years. Disappointing when most other versions of Linux find no difficulty in establishing a simple internet connection, whether wired or wireless. Pity that the MSI Wind chose to use SuSe without providing a simple tool to configure the built in wireless connection for those that don't have the technical skills/knowledge to find and to wade through Suse's own configuration tools.

    I believe Suse Linux is one of the least attractive options for those considering Linux for the first time.

    In this new and growing market, It is important that prospective new users are not put off Linux and, in particular, there is no reason why a custom item such as the Linux offering of the MSI Wind should not work 'straight out of the box', after all MSI Wind is a relatively high end netbbook.

    As with many other posters on ZDNet, I have settled on Ubuntu but do, of course, change the desktop background to an image of my own choosing, either from my own photgraphs or from the many images available on the Internet.
    The Former Moley
  • Linux-based netbooks returned

    Historically there is a gap between Linux & Windows.

    People got used to Windows's interface, for example my parents (that's an example lol) have used Linux (Suse, Mandriva ...) but they are completely lost by the file system, tools, installing softwares, components ...

    In the meantime they appreciate Firefox, Thunderbird ...

    Another gap is : marketing.

    Windows has always been criticized but its presence is worldwide and has always claimed to be user-friendly whereas Linux talks about "liberty". Linux is well-known by technical and IT specialists rather than the common person.

    Not only Linux faces this problem, what about Mac !

    Ok, there is the iphone & ipod but if we stick to notebooks then it is obvious that Windows takes a large advance.

    Finally, even if some efforts have been made by the open source community there are too many Linux-based systems :
    Fedora, Redhat, Suse, Mandriva, Slackware ...

    How can you target common users who have been used this last decade by Windows ?
    tdess31
  • Too Right

    Moley, as usual (always?) I completely agree with you. It seems odd to me as well that they would use a version of Linux that is tedious to configure for wireless connection, and this must be a fundamental use of such a netbook.

    As many readers here know, I have tested quite a few different Linux distributions over the past 6 months or so, and I have to say that I found openSuSE to be one of the more tedious to install, configure and use - so much so that I don't even keep it in an alternate partition on any of my systems right now. Of course, things might be somewhat better with the "real" SuSE distribution, but it doesn't sound like it at least in this area.

    Ubuntu and Mandriva have both had wireless networking down cold for some time now, such that is not much different from setting up wireless on Windows, and certainly not any more difficult.

    jw 10/10/2008
    j.a.watson1
  • MacLinux

    Windows XP is a cookie-cutter product, dictated by Microsoft. With Linux, individual OEMs choose their flavor and develop the customizations. These new permutations can make for "teething" issues. The Linux desktop could be configured to resemble Mac OSX, so there will be a visual cue to the consumer that it isn't Windows but it is an OS with a familiar GUI paradigm.
    telic