Lenovo’s Revisionist Netbook History

A reply to bug #1:

> im seeing more and more vendors offer systems with ubuntu and other
> linux distros. i agree with bert07 that they are finally starting to see
> the linux community.

Speaking of “vendors” who are “starting to see the linux community”, I note that Lenovo is not one of them:

The other challenge has been, in order to keep the price points down, a lot of people thought that Linux would be the saviour of all of these netbooks.

You know, there were a lot of netbooks loaded with Linux, which saves $50 or $100 or whatever it happens to be, based on Microsoft’s pricing and, again, from an industry standpoint, there were a lot of returns because people didn’t know what to do with it.

Linux, even if you’ve got a great distribution and you can argue which one is better or not, still requires a lot more hands-on than somebody who is using Windows.

So, we’ve seen overwhelmingly people wanting to stay with Windows because it just makes more sense: you just take it out of the box and it’s ready to go.

I’m going to call ‘revisionist history’ on Lenovo BTW; People didn’t want “to stay with Windows”, they wanted to stay with Windows *XP*. Yet at the same time, XP (which is still much more widely used than Vista; e.g. see Net Applicaitons and Stat Counter) had all but gone extinct on regular machines from the big OEMs. Thus there was a high demand for it with low supply. When XP netbooks entered the market at a price point of less than half what Vista notebooks cost, they sold quite well as you might have expected! You’ll note that while there are fewer Linux-based netbooks than XP ones available, you don’t see any in stores with Vista O:) Also it turns out that Microsoft only charged the OEMs $15 per XP Home license on netbooks which explains why they didn’t cost significantly more than the Linux ones. And while MSI apparently had 4x (!) higher return rates on their SUSE systems than they did with those preloaded with XP, Dell’s netbooks shipping with Ubuntu (a full third!) had about the same return rate as those with XP. What this says to me is that MSI didn’t do a good job of picking/testing/tweaking/marketing their distro of choice, while Dell did.

My prediction is that companies which decide to put Windows 7 Starter (limited to 3 concurrent applications… can we say “crippleware”? ;) on netbooks are going to have unhappy customers and low sales, those who continue to preload XP will continue to do well and those that preload Ubuntu will see increasing sales.

Here’s a timeline of some of the more interesting netbook-related items:

early 2006: Michael Dell says he won’t pick between Desktop Linux distros for Dell systems because “people will say we picked the wrong one” (http://www.desktoplinux.com/news/NS3822185143.html)

mid 2006: As per Google Trends, Ubuntu (with the arrival of the 6.06 (Dapper Drake), the first LTS release) jumps in the ranks and becomes established as the most ‘popular’ Linux distro (http://www.google.com/trends?q=Fedora%2C+Debian%2C+Ubuntu%2C+SUSE+|+openSUSE%2C+Mandrake+|+Mandriva&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=2)

fedora debian ubuntu suse | opensuse mandrake | mandriva

early 2007: Vista launched; all the major OEMs promptly started shipping it and all but stopped selling XP systems. This would become a problem, since most consumers… rather disliked… Vista, shall we say :)

mid 2007: The OEMs… are unhappy… with Vista sales, shall we say ;) Acer’s president grouses publically (http://www.pcworld.com/article/134962/acer_pc_industry_disappointed_with_vista.html)

Meanwhile, Microsoft begins to sign ‘patent protection’ deals with some older Linux companies: Novell (SUSE), Xandros, Linspire (which would later get swallowed up by Xandros) and Turbolinux. To say that the Linux community didn’t like that is an understatement ;) To quote Bruce Perens, “Here is Microsoft out collecting the losers in the Linux business and paying them money so they can … paint open source as music pirates out there using Microsoft technology without a license … I think they’re out to scare people.” (http://www.infoworld.com/t/platforms/microsoft-interoperability-team-bring-red-hat-744?page=0,2) Mark Shuttleworth flatly states that Ubuntu will not sign up for that (http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/127).

Dell begins preloading systems with Ubuntu.

late 2007: backlash from the OEMs got Microsoft to postpone the XP end of sale date from the end of January 2008 to the end of June 2008 (http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2007/09/amid-disappointing-vista-uptake-microsoft-relents-on-xp-execution.ars)

Recession begins in the US (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7759470.stm)

Coincidentally right around the same time, the low-cost EeePC netbook was released; it ran Linux (Xandros-based though ): to help keep costs down. It ended up being the surprise hit that Christmas season. The big OEMs noticed.

Early 2008: I read how Sony was getting nervous, worrying about a “race to the bottom” in terms of pricing if $300 netbooks caught on (http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9879798-7.html).

Intel begins shipping its Atom processors.

mid 2008: Second generation netbooks with Linux now also from MSI (SUSE), Acer (Linpus Lite; based on Fedora) and Dell (Ubuntu-based).

Also netbooks preloaded with Windows XP. Now besides the obvious reason that Vista would not run well on netbook systems, it turns out that in fear of free Linux, Microsoft agreed to sell copies of XP for just $15 each for netbooks to the OEMs (rather than the ~$50 or so for regular notebooks and desktops). They also agreed to allow the sale of XP on netbooks until mid-2010 (http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=1312).

XP preloads on major OEM desktops and notebooks finally end.

late 2008: The recession in the US is finally noticed.

early 2009: HP begins selling modified-Ubuntu based netbooks.

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One Response to “Lenovo’s Revisionist Netbook History”

  1. ubuntucat Says:

    Both Dell and Asus reported similar return rates for Linux netbooks.

    And Linux netbooks are just as ready to go when you take them out of the box as Windows ones are… sometimes even moreso, as they have OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Works.

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