Netbook returns blamed on Linux 'teething problems'

Higher return rates for Linux-based netbooks don't necessarily reflect badly on the open-source operating system, according to Ubuntu backer Canonical.
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor
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 emphasized 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.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 realizing 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 criticized for serious shortcomings, such as problems connecting to wireless networks, Carr noted.

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