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The NetBook Battlefront … 1 point for Windows?

Over the past couple of days I’ve been reading about the higher than normal return rate of Linux netbooks. Being a Ubuntu user, I was curious as to the reason why that would happen. I believe that Ubuntu (eerrr, Linux) 😉 is a better operating system than Windows XP and much better than Windows Vista but why are they opting for Windows?


It seems that it all stemmed from the reason that most of those who bought the Linux netbook was expecting something that would look similar to Windows in terms of interface. Being a Windows user myself, here’s some of my thoughts about the situation on what I’ve been seeing in the currently available NetBooks.

The customer is always right. I believe that Linux is all about choice. I know how flexible Gnome, KDE and XFCE are but a lot of Windows user don’t. And for them to start learning and discovering just how great Linux is, they’ll have to first use Linux. So I think that a good way to do it is to give what the customer wants and at the same time show them choices. How? Create a Linux netbook distro that will offer a Windows look alike UI as an alternative interface they can use.

The best user interface is NOT everything to a lot of people. I know Linux has such a great UI. Most Linux netbooks offer an interface that is a “better” alternative to the Windows UI. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter much if it’s the most advanced UI in the world. People (and more than 90% of them have been using Windows) don’t really like to change something that has worked for them. When they started buying the netbooks, they were expecting that these devices are small versions of their desktops / notebooks which are mostly Windows.

Marketing plays a key role so a consistent UI will gain better exposure. If you take a look at the variety of Linux distros being used in different netbook brands, you’d see a different look and feel from each one. These sort of dilute the whole thrust of marketing Linux to the masses. I believe that a unified look and feel from the different distros will help a lot in introducing Linux to them.

A good way is to create a Windows look alike UI that the different distros can offer to buyers as an alternative look and feel they can use. But the Linux distros should still have the same consistent look. Have you seen the Ubuntu NetBook Remix? Maybe it can be used as the unified look and feel of Linux on netbooks.

Money changes the playing field. Microsoft’s revenue of June 2008 is about US$ 60 billion. In contrast, Redhat for example has only about US$500 million last Feb 2008. As I see it, those dollars can do a lot of “work” for Microsoft to sway things their way in terms of marketing dollars.

Every Linux user should get involved. This is one reason I am writing this post. I believe that every Linux user (whether you are using Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Fedora, Debian, Mandriva …) should get involved. If you have a blog, write about it. If you code, create something that users can use. Do you know that there actually quite a number of good open-source software that only runs on Windows. If you’re a writer, help in documentation … Help out in your own way. Tell other people about Linux. Let other people know that they have a choice — something better .

Gerry Ilagan

Gerry Ilagan is into mobile apps and WordPress development at @speeqs. He loves to write about electronics, the Internet of Things, mobile phones, and #crazyideas.


John Gill

According to Jerry Shen, CEO of ASUS the return rates for EEE pc’s are not that different for Windows and Linux models:

I think the most significant point you make is about MS marketing dollars — and this story about return rates might well have more to do with that.

There is no doubt that netbooks gave MS a fright — they are battling hard to contain the damage.

I know several EEE PC users, former windows users who are more than happy with their linux based EEE pc.

Fabian Rodriguez

I’ve found this site to be useful when introducing people to Linux:

I can’t agree with some of the “anti-Microsoft” attitude but it gets the message accross.

Netbooks and Ignorance |

[…] these types of devices Linux will more than meet their requirements, but it seems like we have a ways to go on convincing people of […]

Chris Lees

The manufacturer wouldn’t know about how many returns are done for purchasers changing their mind, as the units would just go back into the retailer’s stock. That’s why Asus says the return rate is the same for Windows and Linux, because Asus only sees the returns for faulty hardware.

Part of the problem with the Linux netbooks is that the distributions used on them have been customized by Linux amateurs to be “easy-to-use”, but in fact they become very difficult to work with if you want to do something that the distribution hasn’t been designed for. For example, if you want to mount a Windows share in Linpus Lite (Acer Aspire One), you need to drop to the command-line because Acer didn’t include Thunar’s network browser. And seriously, you have to edit a plain text file in order to add new items to the launcher!

I got frustrated at the limitations very quickly and installed Ubuntu. People who’ve never used Linux before would (and do) believe that it’s a problem with Linux in general, and either install their favourite obsolete operating system or exchange it for a machine with a 7-year-old operating system preinstalled.

Of course, the problem should go away if vendors install Ubuntu netbook remix and don’t fiddle with it too much. It really is the best netbook interface and operating system, so much so that I’m thinking of putting the interface onto my desktop computer!


@chris, very good point. That’s why I am for giving the buyers / customers / clients a choice. For example, I have seen very good “mimics” of Windows, MacOSX in terms of interface. It will really help a prospective Linux user of a netbook to be able to easily “convert into” Linux if they see a familiar look and feel and way of doing things. After all most of these new Linux users are most probably existing Windows users.

Linux, after all, is all about a choice. Why not put the choice upfront because a new Linux user wouldn’t know he/she would be able to change the way Linux looks and feels by tweaking it.


The biggest advantage that Linux offers for Netbooks is the ability to customize the OS to the end user. Unix programs have been working on a wider range of technologies than Unix so there are less assumptions. Already all the Netbook OSes have gone far in reconfiguring the experience for screen sizes like: 1024×600. But that means the experience is different, Linux feels like an OS customized for the hardware.

Netbooks should serve a limited function than general purpose notebooks and the OS can reflect that.

I’m hoping by 2010 the netbook OSes can configure the experience:

— word processing and note taking
— internet station (i.e web use)
— single custom mobile application (like a sales app)

That is customizable appliance oriented computing. Windows doesn’t offer anything like that.

If the system acts and feels like Windows, then what’s the point?


@CD Host, only a very small percentage of people like you and me knows how powerful and customizable Linux is. A good majority of them only knows Windows.

Linux is about choice. If these people wants their Linux to look like Windows in order for them to effectively use it, then don’t you think we should give them the option upfront because chances are they don’t know that it can be done. By not putting it upfront, we are sort of limiting their choices.

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