Dell Exec: Linux Netbook Returns A "Non-Issue" - InformationWeek

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8/18/2009
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Dell Exec: Linux Netbook Returns A "Non-Issue"

Lately, Dell has stuck a fork in some "facts" regarding Linux netbook return rates. Now, the company is considering whether to sell a new type of netbook where Windows won't even be an option.

Lately, Dell has stuck a fork in some "facts" regarding Linux netbook return rates. Now, the company is considering whether to sell a new type of netbook where Windows won't even be an option.I recently explained why claims that buyers return Linux netbook models more often than Windows models are, to say the least, highly dubious. Yet this canard refuses to die, thanks in part to a Microsoft employee's blog post on the subject, as well as various IT journalists who repeat it as fact.

Not long ago, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner trotted out same tired claim at a financial analysts' meeting. According to Turner, retailers have whispered in his ear that their return rates on Linux netbooks are "four or five times higher than what we're seeing on other PCs that have Windows."

Apparently, Turner didn't speak with Dell.

Dell currently sells three models with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, including its Mini 10v netbook. Last week, Dell executive Todd Finch told a conference audience that the company's Linux and Windows netbook return rates are approximately the same.

Finch described the entire topic as a "non-issue" for Dell. "They are making something of nothing," he said of Microsoft's claims.

When customers do return a Linux netbook, Finch added, it was usually because they expected to receive a Windows machine. That's a very important point, since these claims always carry a subtext: If people return so many Linux netbooks, then there must be something terribly wrong with them.

According to Dell, that's not true. Most people who actually want to buy a Linux netbook are satisfied with their purchases.

This raises an interesting question: Why, exactly, do people return Windows netbooks? I doubt any of these folks expected to get a Linux machine, yet Dell says the return rates are pretty much the same.

Another recent story also covered Finch's OpenSourceWorld remarks, and it sheds additional light on Dell's Linux netbook experiences.

According to Finch, Linux ships on up to one third of all Dell netbooks during certain quarters. That's an impressive figure, and it appears to contradict claims that Windows is clobbering Linux in the netbook market.

Finch also said that Dell is thinking about selling yet another category of Linux-powered netbooks, dubbed "smartbooks." The main difference, apparently, is that a smartbook would use processors based on the ARM architecture, making them both less expensive and more energy-efficient than netbooks running Intel Atom processors.

If Dell decides to sell smartbooks, it will be a Linux-only affair: Windows does not run on ARM. Such a move would speak volumes about Dell's confidence in Linux as a platform for ultra-portable PCs.

It is pretty clear at this point that netbooks are a useful tool for many smaller businesses. And many key netbook applications -- Web browsing, messaging, and access to cloud-based apps -- look pretty much the same whether they run on a Windows or Linux system.

That fact brings three key factors into play when deciding between Windows and Linux as a netbook OS: cost, security and performance. Conveniently enough, claims about Linux netbook returns tend to negate the first two advantages by implying that Linux is incapable of delivering the third.

Perhaps now we can quit flogging this dead horse and finally give it a decent burial.

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