There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about how Windows has been crushing Linux on netbooks. When Asus launched the Eee PC 701 back in 2007, it ran Xandros Linux and open source enthusiasts started proclaiming that netbooks would help Linux finally make it as a mainstream consumer-oriented operating system. It’s cheaper for computer makers to deploy and it offers much of the same functionality users have come to expect from Windows or OS X.

And then Microsoft started offering netbook makers the ability to license Windows XP well below the normal price, which meant that by mid-2008 you could usually find a mini-laptop running Windows XP for just a few bucks more than a Linux model. And over the course of the year, there was a major shift. Early in 2008, most netbooks sold ran some version of Linux. By the end of the year, somewhere around 80% were running Windows XP.

But it turns out that Linux still has a place in the netbook ecosystem. Dell officials told Laptop magazine recently that about a third of the Inspiron Mini 9 computers the company sells run Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows XP. While 33% ain’t exactly a majority, that’s a pretty big achievement for Linux, which has a huge market share when it comes to servers, but is much less popular on desktop and laptop computers.

My guess is there are two reasons for the popularity of Linux Inspiron Mini 9 netbooks: They’re dirt cheap, and Dell actually did a pretty good job of making sure Ubuntu worked properly with the hardware before shipping the computers. MSI has reported that return rates for Linux versions of its Wind netbooks are much higher than the retuns of Windows powered netbooks. But MSI also shipped the Wind U90 with a version of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop that didn’t seem to work very well.

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21 replies on “1 in 3 Dell netbooks runs Ubuntu Linux”

  1. Ubuntu on the Mini 9 is excellent. I have it and it’s the best introduction to Linux ever. Everything works and much more efficient than Windows. I tried installing 8.10 on my Mini but then reverted back to the 8.04 that was customized for it because it loads really fast and videos play smoothly on it. Ubuntu is now my favorite OS.

  2. Are those dell numbers just the US sales of the mini or are the global sales? Dell does not offer a linux variant in all locations globally.. interpretting those sales figure correctly, there needs to be some context as to whether those are strictly US sales figures or global figures.
    “Again, like Toshiba, Dell has launched its new netbook in both Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux versions in the US but only the Windows XP model in Australia.

    Evan Williams, Dell’s Australia and New Zealand consumer sales and marketing general manager told iTWire that the company decided to release only a Windows XP version of its netbook in Australia after gauging customer demand in Australia and overseas.”


  3. I purchased an Ubuntu Mini 9 for several reasons: 1) I wanted the Dell because it has no moving parts, 2) the Ubuntu Mini’s went up to 64MB of SSD, 3) the President’s Day sale only covered Ubuntu, and 4) I have an MSDN license which allows me to install whatever version of Windows I want for the purposes I have in mind (Win7’s going on it anyway, but the license, while a bit complicated to explain, has something like 10 seats for every flavor of the OS, and this laptop is primarily for some specific programming stuff I’m doing)

  4. This is a textbook example of distortion of statistical data. If you had compared sales of Windows XP versus Linux on the exact same hard drive configuration you might have a valid data set.
    My point being, how many sales were generated solely by the choice of a 160 GB drive over a small SSD drive and not by the preference of one operating system over another?

  5. Oh – Novell’s SLED Linux also is not the best choice for the HP2133 as well. Had to remove it and install CrunchBang Linux instead (as CrunchBang is Ubuntu based with OpenBox Window Manger)..CrunchBang is very quick, something that SLED was not, and SLED seems to lack in the repository area, a feature that any Ubuntu based distro seems to be NO lacking in any way as the Ubuntu Repositories are stuffed with neat applications (just need to remember to find a how to in order to remove MONO from the system and you are good to go). Oh – with CrunchBang, use Thunderbird not Claws and use Sync Kolab add-on with an IMAP server, could be google IMAP maybe, and get DigiKam on it too. Fun stuff… Novell SLED is stuffed with MONO stuff all thru it (best not to get MONO as it will make you tired very quickly).

    1. Novell’s SLED is a commercial support Linux distribution – you have
      to pay your support fee to access the full repositories.

      Also, since SLED is targeted at the Enterprise User (like the hp-2133)
      the available software has under gone much more Q&A – –
      Which is one of the things that make it “less than current” compared to
      the community supported Linux distributions.

      Even with those disclaimers – I moved SLED into /dev/null before even
      setting it up myself. 😉

    2. I’m a long-time Apple user, but if and when I buy a netbook, dude, I’m gettin’ a Dell (IM9) — largely because of size, weight, price, and easy hardware upgradability, but also largely because, as far as I’ve been able to tell, its stock Linux distro is pretty unmutated. That is, I expect to be able to obtain new applications from “the usual” repositories that any user-installed Ubuntu system could draw from. By contrast, for example, I understand that the first Eee PCs were “easy to learn, easy to work, easy to root” because they were locked to Asus’ repository, so that there was no (reasonably easy) way to upgrade the SMB client from the old, exploit-vulnerable version that shipped with the computers.

      Is this true? Can I obtain new and updated apps for the Dell IM9 Ubuntu installation just as I could if I had installed Ubuntu via a download of the standard distribution? Or (pardon my ignorance) is the “MONO” that you referred to some kind of lockdown that I need to figure out how to undo?

      I guess Apple users are unaccustomed to “fragmentation” of distros; there are only a finite number of hardware and software combinations out there (if you don’t count “hackintoshes”), so you know what you’re getting, and what works with what. I’m not afraid of hacking to make things work — I figured out how to install a radiation-transport code I use on a cluster running FreeBSD, which the code doesn’t support — but I’d rather avoid it if I can, since I’m not that savvy and I usually have to proceed by trial and error more than by logic!

  6. A 30% share is very good when you compare the advertising $$$$ spent by MS and Linux. 😉
    When did you see your last Linux media advertisement?
    Or even see Linux running on the machines in the background of your evening news program?

  7. I agree that the SUSE build of the MSI Wind was pretty awful. there were localization problems and wireless card driver issues. If it’s not a problem for people able to install their own distros or compile their own drivers, I can understand how it may bring a non technical customer to bring it machine back. Dell’s ubuntu builds on the other hand have a pretty good reputation.

  8. The Dell Mini 9 ships with Linux because it really does not offer that model in a practical solution with Windows and a IDE HD I believe if Dell would offer the Mini 9 with Windows XP/ 160GB HD like most of the competitors the Linux version would die out quickly. The idea of these mini laptops is to be mobile although still mobile who wants to constantly use SD cards for critical storage. So I do not believe the Linux version is selling because people want linux its because they are cheaper than a Windows model and Dell really does not offer a practical HD option for a Windows user in the Mini 9 model line up.

    1. As you point out, Dell’s competitors offer these features, yet Dell sells enough Mini 9’s to make a business case. I don’t think you’ve really proved anything!

  9. The mini 9 is only available with relatively small SSD drives (unless you want pay a fortune) so you are probably not going to be adding a ton of user installed software to them. I suspect Linux becomes more palatable for the non technical user when you treat your netbook like a device running embedded software and not a general purpose computing device.

    1. That is actually exactly the market segment that Canonical wants to go after with its Ubuntu netbook remix. Shuttleworth even talks about that fact in his latest interview. netbooks as web-centric information consumers.

      That’s exactly the sort of market that HP as targetted with its Ubuntu adapted interface for its HP Mini Mi edition.

      Its not so much a matter of being palatable as it is breaking market segment inertia by stressing a different primary usage pattern..even though general purpose computing is possible.

      You’ll see much more of this when the ARM based netbook devices start landing to compete with the Atom based devices.

  10. Im sure another reason why people are choosing linux on their Dell mini 9 is because it makes a great hackintosh. Why pay for windows when you are going to run os x?

  11. The build of Ubuntu on the Mini 9 is pretty excellent. I used one for a few months, and never felt the need to move to XP.

    When they release half baked Linux build, these things are terrible. When they do it right, they’re a pleasure to use.

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