Bad marketing undermines Linux netbooks
Over the past couple of days the online media has been full of stories of dissatisfied Linux netbook users returning their computers. Bloggers and journalists quickly picked up on the fact that return rates for Linux-based netbooks were apparently much higher than for Windows-based machines.
It seems the origin of the story is an interview with Laptop magazine in which MSI’s Andy Tung said that the “return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks that Windows XP netbooks”. MSI is the maker of the Wind netbook.
On the surface of it that is a disturbing number. The obvious conclusion to jump to is that Linux is a failure on netbooks. It’s obvious, isn’t it? No-one wants Linux on their netbook so they’re all rushing to trade them in.
The truth is likely to be a little more … obvious.
Microsoft controls around 90 percent of the market for desktop PC software. The latest NetApplications survey puts Windows’ market share at 90.29 percent. Linux, on the other hand, accounts for just 0.91 percent of the market. Even Apple’s 8.23 percent share makes Linux look like a non-starter.
We could, of course, squabble endlessly over the merits of this, and other, desktop OS surveys but the truth is that less than one percent of computer users use Linux. The rest are, mostly, Windows users. So when they go online and buy a netbook they probably imagine they are getting Windows with that. When it arrives it looks like nothing they have ever seen before.
Sure, they should have made sure it had Windows before they ordered it but another truth is that 90% of the Windows users probably have no idea that something like Linux even exists. So they return it, looking for a version of software they are more familiar with.
Which is not to say there isn’t a problem here. Canonical’s marketing manager Gerry Carr, admits that there are more Linux-based netbooks being returned. But not because Linux is worse, at least not in any objective sense, but because users are being sucked in by what Carr calls “unclear selling”.
There are a lot of reasons to celebrate the relative successes of Linux. Users who convert to Linux are usually more than happy. But no matter how big we (the Linux community) believe Linux is becoming it is sobering to realise that Linux is used by barely one percent of PC users.
The open source community needs to be doing a lot more marketing to get the message across to make most users even aware that there is an alternative to Microsoft’s Windows on the desktop.