It seems that Microsoft is scoring a bit win in the netbook sector, with claims doing the rounds that Windows XP has gone from a mere 10% of the market in February last year to 96% now.

As someone who uses – and likes – Ubuntu on most of his hardware, this is a surprise.  Sadly, it’s not that surprising – most people will always vote for the status quo.

I did write an article for Bit-Tech on the matter, but a real journalist did the same.  Accordingly, here’s the article that never made it:

Desktop Linux received a bitter blow recently with the news that Windows is by far the most popular operating system for low-cost netbook devices.

According to an article on InformationWeek, the latest figures from market research specialist NPD show Microsoft’s Windows operating system leading the way with a massive 96 percent share of the netbook market.

Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc describes the growth of Windows on the low-cost netbook platform – a platform that many believe originated with the Asus Eee PC, which was originally designed around a custom version of the Xandros Linux distribution – over the last year as “phenomenal.” With many manufacturers now offering Windows XP – and a few ambitious or foolhardy types even offering Windows Vista – as standard, Windows has blossomed from a mere 10 percent market share to an incredible 96 percent.

When one company gains market share, another loses – although in this instance it’s the open source Linux operating system which is has suffered for Microsoft’s success. LeBlanc claims that Linux on netbooks has directly contributed to Microsoft’s success in the market, saying that “[netbook owners] that try Linux are often returning it,” after realising that “their Linux-based netbook PC doesn’t deliver the same quality of experience” as a full-blown Windows system.

While it’s in Microsoft’s interests to downplay Linux wherever possible, the rhetoric – in this case, at least – is borne out by fact: mobile ‘phone specialist retailer The Carphone Warehouse quietly dropped Linux-based netbooks from its list of offerings after seeing a return rate of up to 20 percent – far higher than the same hardware running Windows XP.

Some of the issues that cause users to become frustrated with Linux-based netbooks could be down to expectations – with the overwhelming majority of retail software being designed for Windows alone, it’s easy to imagine users becoming frustrated at their inability to purchase add on applications for their netbook. Another reason for the high return rate could be the often locked-down and limited system offered by some manufacturers which prevents users from harnessing the true power of their new purchase – with special mention to the particularly poor hack job Asus did of the Xandros distribution for the original Eee PC range.

Whatever the reasons behind the seeming failure of Linux in the netbook market, Microsoft will be hoping that it can maintain its momentum as XP is phased out and replaced by Windows 7 – which LeBlanc says “will run great” on netbook hardware “no matter how [the] hardware evolves.” Likewise, companies behind rather more impressive netbook versions of Linux such as Canonical’s Ubuntu Netbook Remix and the Linux Foundation’s Moblin project will be praying they can reverse consumer opinion on netbook-based Linux.

Do you think that Windows will always be the consumer choice – even on restricted hardware such as netbooks – or are the manufacturers to blame for poor public opinion for offering badly implemented locked-down systems under the Linux name? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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