Vodafone has dismissed the preinstallation of Linux onto its netbooks, citing consumers' perception that netbooks are equivalent to laptops in their functionality.
David Pollington, the operator's head of consumer and internet technical research, said on Wednesday that netbooks — which originally came with Linux rather than Windows as their operating systems — had originally been intended as always-on web-browsing devices, but users had misinterpreted their purpose.
"Unfortunately, when the public got hold of these devices, they thought they were small PCs," Pollington told delegates at the Open Source In Mobile 09 conference in Amsterdam. "They took the Linux variant home and didn't understand why it couldnt connect to the printer, or why they couldn't watch internet video."
"We had a very high return rate on Linux netbooks," he added.
Asked by a delegate whether Vodafone would consider a shift back to Linux on the netbooks they supply in mobile broadband bundles, Pollington said operators needed to work out how to position netbooks as a defined segment, separate from larger and more powerful notebooks, or "users will continue to perceive netbooks as small laptops, in which case it will be very difficult to go back to Linux".
Linux has, however, continued to be popular on many netbooks sold directly from the manufacturer. According to representatives from Canonical, the sponsor company of Ubuntu, that Linux distribution is the preinstalled OS on around a third of the netbooks it sells, with a particularly high proportion of Linux-toting netbook sales in Asian markets.