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Canonical hits back at Microsoft in netbook spat

Canonical, the company that sponsors the Ubuntu Linux distribution, has attacked a Microsoft blogger's claims about why Windows netbooks outsell their Linux counterparts.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on
Canonical, the company that sponsors the Ubuntu Linux distribution, has attacked a Microsoft blogger's claims about why Windows netbooks outsell their Linux counterparts.

On 3 April, Brandon LeBlanc wrote on the Windows Experience Blog that, in the United States in February, 96 percent of netbooks sold had Windows as the preinstalled operating system. "A number of analysts and researchers following the space see ample evidence indicating customers really DO want netbook PCs to work like their larger brethren – and that the way the vast majority of consumers make that happen is by buying a netbook PC with Windows," he wrote.

"Both MSI – a leading netbook PC OEM – and Canonical – the vendor supporting the commercial distribution of Ubuntu Linux - stated publicly they saw Linux return rates 4 times higher than Windows," he wrote. "Why such a disparity? Because users simply expect the Windows experience. When they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn't deliver that same quality of experience, they get frustrated and take it back. Here's a telling stat: In the UK, Carphone Warehouse dropped Linux-based netbook PCs, citing customer confusion as a reason for a whopping 1-in-5 return rate."

"Why are consumers choosing Windows? Because it's easier to use, just works out of the box with people's stuff, and ultimately offers more choice." He went on to claim that "it's easy to stay up-to-date since Windows releases updates, patches and fixes on a regular, predictable schedule" and pointed out that "Windows supports nearly 3,000 printers, more than 700 digital cameras, more than 240 webcams and more than 180 digital video cameras".

On Wednesday, Canonical's Chris Kenyon wrote a retaliatory post, pointing out that "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," Kenyon coughed. "Just plug and play."

On the subject of return rates, Kenyon argued that the issue was not Linux, but the quality of the netbook's hardware and the quality assurance that had been carried out by the manufacturer.

"Well-engineered Linux netbooks have similar return rates to XP," Kenyon wrote. "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." He listed three examples of things that needed to be done with any netbook:

  • 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)

Highlighting Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 as a (praiseworthy) case in point, Kenyon said: "When customers are offered choice on equally well-engineered computers around a third will select Ubuntu over XP."

Kenyon also reminded his readers that it was competition from Linux that "crashed" the price of XP last year. "So even if you bought a netbook last year with XP - feel free to smile when you see an Ubuntu PC," he wrote. "It's amazing what an open market can achieve."

This article was originally posted on ZDNet UK.

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