Sunday we reported on an interview with an MSI manager, who stated that internal research had shown that the return rate for the Linux version of MSI’s Wind netbook was four times as high as that of the Windows XP version. He claimed that the unfamiliarity of people with Linux was the culprit. This claim sparked some serious discussion around the net, but now MSI’s statement is being repeated by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.
One of the problems with MSI’s Andy Tung’s statement was that it was impossible to say if the figures extended beyond MSI’s own Wind, and if it was possible to apply this claim to the general netbook market. Canonical’s marketing manager, Gerry Carr, confirms in an interview that retun rates for netbooks running open source software is indeed higher than that of those running Windows XP. “We don’t know what the XP return rates are,” Carr states, “But I will say that the return rate is above normal for netbooks that offer open-source operating systems.”
Carr further explains:
Unclear selling is happening, typically online. The customer will get their netbook sent to their home and they imagine to find something like a Microsoft desktop, but they see a brown Ubuntu version. They are unwilling to learn it and they were expecting to have Windows. We said a long time ago, we didn’t want to make a Windows clone. It has a different interface especially with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. We think it’s a better way but it’s not the same way people are used to. That unfamiliarity can take a while to learn and there is an education that has to be stressed.
As some have noted, it’s interesting that people who switch from Windows to Mac OS X do not seem to have this problem. Personally, I believe that there are some logical reasons why this is the case. I think most people buy a Mac after having it seen in operation at a friend or relative, or even after having played with it at an Apple Store or an official retailer. Also, I think most people already know that Apple is different than Windows, and as such, when they choose to purchase a machine from Apple, they are aware it’s going to be different. There is also a psychological effect at work; an Apple computer is not cheap, and post-purchase rationalisation will certainly play a role here.
These factors do not play much of a role in the purchase of a netbook. They are much cheaper, and often, online resellers are unclear that they do not come with Windows. In addition, people are simply less familiar with the whole concept of Linux than they are familiar with Apple – it is easier to deal with something new and different if you know there’s going to be something new and different in the first place. And to make matters worse, there are probably very few ‘real’ retail stores who carry Linux machines for prospective buyers to test.
All in all, I agree with Carr when he says that it doesn’t really matter how good or bad desktop Linux is; the fact that it’s different is in and of itself reason enough for its adoption rate to be slow.