Microsoft has been proudly crowing that the vast majority of netbooks today are running Windows and that customers are returning Linux netbooks at a much higher rate than Windows netbooks. Microsoft claims this is happening because people prefer the Windows experience to that of Linux.
Of course, Canonical, the organization that oversees commercial distribution of Ubuntu Linux, sees things differently. "We all know why Microsoft is hammering this point: They want to clear a path for Windows 7 and charge for that operating system," said Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical.
In a recent blog post, Brandon LeBlanc, a communications manager on the Windows Client Communications Team, noted that both Canonical and MSI Wind have publicly stated that the Linux netbook return rate is four times higher than that of Windows.
LeBlanc's claim apparently stems from an October 2008 article in Laptop Magazine in which MSI and Canonical are quoted, but Carr says a company with Microsoft's size and resources should be able to come up with better evidence to back up its claims.
"I think it's interesting that in the year Microsoft has been in the market, the only 'real' data point they can come up with is one magazine article from six months ago that misinterpreted what I was saying. For a company with Microsoft's vast resources, that's not much evidence," Carr said.
Carr acknowledges that some consumers who've bought Linux netbooks haven't been happy with their purchases, but he chalks that up to netbook makers not setting the proper expectations when marketing the machines.
"For poorly marketed machines that lack proper codecs and whose vendors haven't engaged with Linux distributors to make the product work well, you'll likely have a high return rate," Carr said. "But for engineered, well-marketed products, there's no difference whether a netbook is running Linux or Windows."
Dell does a particularly good job of explaining to netbook customers that they're entering a different environment, and that's really the key to minimizing returns, according to Carr.
"There have been occasions where people have been unaware of what they're buying. We've always been clear that anyone shipping Ubuntu should be clear about explaining what users should expect," Carr said.