The netbook craze is currently in full swing, with these small laptops being advertised everywhere (at least here in The Netherlands); in fact, you can already get netbooks with 3G from the mobile phone carriers at severely reduced prices (but with a one or two year contract, of course). Netbooks are also welcomed by the Linux community as the break they’ve been waiting for: many netbooks are available with Linux pre-installed. One of the more successful (and powerful) netbooks out there is MSI’s Wind, which is also sold under different brand and model names by other companies. In an interview with LaptopMag, MSI’s Director of US Sales Andy Tung, however, has some bad news for those that believe the netbook will be the foot in the door that the Linux desktop has been waiting for.
The MSI Wind is available with either Windows XP or Linux installed, so this gives us a way to compare the market reception between Windows XP and Linux. Many people won’t like this, but the market reception of the Linux version of the Wind has not exactly been stellar, according to Tung. The return rates for the Linux version of the MSI Wind have been four times higher than that of the XP version. As Tung explains:
Our internal research has shown that the return of netbooks is higher than regular notebooks, but the main cause of that is Linux. People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store. The return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks than Windows XP netbooks.
The Wind runs SUSE Linux, and I’m sure a common argument will be that they chose the wrong distribution, set it up wrong, or otherwise did something to harm the Linux version. It’s not the hardware, in any case, as the only difference between the Windows and Linux versions of the Wind is that the latter lacks Bluetooth. In all other aspects, they’re the same device. In other words – I believe Tung’s explanation is pretty much spot on: people are returning the Linux versions more often than the Windows version simply because they don’t like the SUSE Linux installed on the Wind.
Tung also disclosed some very interesting sales figures. Apparently, MSI is selling about 150000 to 250000 Winds a month, which is quite impressive, especially if you take into account that these figures exclude the sales of rebranded Winds. The figures could be even better, because “[MSI’s] sales have been capped by the supplier of the Atom CPU.”
MSI plans to expand the Wind product line with a Wind oriented at business users, with a more industrial and less “cute” design. The Wind Desktop is also close to being released, and will find its way to the US as well.