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Linux kicks Microsoft back

Analysts say Linux has 1/3rd of the netbook market. Microsoft says they have a 93% share. They can't both be right. Who's lying?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor on

Bucking the conventional wisdom and Microsoft press releases, ABI Research says that Linux has a 32% share of the netbook market - and predicts Linux will overtake Windows by 2013. Microsoft says ". . . over 93% of worldwide small notebook PCs run Windows today." They can't both be right.

Credibility? Microsoft is, of course, the world's largest software company. Other than a conviction for illegal anti-trust activity against Netscape - a conviction unanimously confirmed on appeal - and over $10 billion in settlements for anti-trust and patent infringement claims, they are clean.

ABI Research has been in business for 19 years. Senior analyst Jeff Orr joined them last year. ABI is an established firm.

Dell chimes in Further, after I published Windows kicks Linux to the curb last January, Dell said 1/3rd of Mini 9s sold run Linux. And Dell later said the return rate wasn't any higher than XP's.

Analyst Orr stresses that a lot of the Linux activity is outside the US, where people are less locked into Windows. And he also conscientiously does not include dual-boot systems - Linux only systems, please.

So who's telling the truth? Microsofties have a special problem: their CEO, Steve Ballmer. He of the chair-throwing hissy fits. The "ha-ha, stomp your iPhone" CEO.

The one who claimed a 60% mobile market share when independent analysts said 14%. Steve Ballmer may be a fine fellow - he could be a warm and caring human being with bad press - he just doesn't want to hear bad news.

Why bad news is good news "Management by exception" (MBE) is a popular management model that says look at things that aren't performing as expected. But for MBE to work, someone has to tell the CEO the bad news.

Then the CEO can figure out what the problem is - maybe the CEO was wrong about something - and then fix it. Microsoft has had enough problems in the last 10 years to practice on.

But at Microsoft, it seems few people tell the CEO bad news. Of course, facts are facts, so spinning to make them OK is a corporate survival strategy.

The Storage Bits take I don't think Microsoft is deliberately lying. They just see the world differently than you and the analysts do.

Here's what's happening. People in the trenches knew, for example, that the Mini 9 business was 1/3rd Linux. Windows marketing knew because Dell is a big customer.

So, do you tell the boss that you've screwed up and Linux is gaining share at one of the world's largest PC vendors? Nah, that's for losers.

Instead, through the magic of market segmentation, you pull Dell's Linux numbers out of the "small PC" market and put them in some other market - mobile Internet devices, say - until you get to the preferred "93% share" number. And you mention that you've "heard" that Linux returns are a lot higher, i.e. Linux isn't competitive.

Mission accomplished. Now, you're sucking wind in the mobile Internet device catagory, but that's not your problem - Windows 7 Mobile will fix it - or not. Meanwhile you've lived to fight another day.

Comments welcome, of course. I spent over 20 years in big companies and yes, stuff like this really happens. Update: A year ago I believed Microsoft's numbers. Today, not so much.End update.

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