Microsoft often says return rates for Linux-based netbooks are four times higher than those for Windows netbooks, and cites this as evidence that customers prefer Windows. And Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last month said Windows netbooks account for between 95 and 96 percent of the netbook market.
However, Microsoft's claims have been overblown, said Todd Finch, senior product marketing manager at Dell, at the OpenSource World conference earlier this week. In fact, the rate of Linux netbook returns is about the same as that for Windows netbooks, Finch said, calling Microsoft's netbook return claims a "non-issue".
Microsoft has been dancing delicately around the netbook issue, acknowledging the financial impact of the lower-priced version of Windows they ship with while simultaneously claiming that netbooks aren't a threat. Recently, though, Microsoft officials have come up with a plan to counteract the netbook effect.
Although Microsoft often says it had nothing to do with branding the netbook category, it does exert a market-shaping influence by requiring OEMs to limit netbook specifications in order to qualify for lower-cost versions of Windows. To qualify for Windows 7 Starter or Home Basic, Microsoft has reportedly set limitations of a 10.2-inch screen, 1 GB of RAM, and a 250-GB hard drive, or 64-GB solid state drive.
"Our license tells you what a netbook is. Our license says it's got to have a super-small screen, which means it probably has a super-small keyboard, and it has to have a certain processor and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," Ballmer told analysts last month.
Ballmer spoke of the need for a higher-end netbook that would ship with pricier versions of Windows. "That machine might not sell for $299 or $399. That machine will sell for more money, and it will have all of the best performance and power characteristics," Ballmer told analysts.
Dell earlier this month quietly discontinued its 12-inch netbook offering, the Mini 12, claiming that 10-inch netbooks were more appealing for customers. Of course, 10-inch netbooks are more appealing for Microsoft, too. It's certainly possible that Dell pulled the Mini 12 at Microsoft's behest.
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