Is the writing on the wall for Linux netbooks? While most mini-laptops are capable of running a number of Linux distributions quite well, it looks like an increasing number of netbooks are shipping with Windows preloaded. Some of the earliest netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 701 may have shipped with Linux, but in a recent blog post, Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc says that Windows went from having a 10% netbook market share during the first half of 2008 to a 96% market share in February, 2009.

That probably has at least as much to do with Microsoft extending the life of Windows XP and offering computer makers deeply discounted licenses as it does with consumer demand for Windows. But it’s certainly hard to find a computer maker who isn’t offering a Windows netbook today.

That could still change this year. A number of companies are preparing to launch miniature laptops with ARM-based processors. And Windows XP, Vista, and 7 won’t run on ARM chips. So those netbooks are going to have to run Linux, Google Android, or another operating system. My guess is Microsoft will push to get Windows CE onto as many of those devices as possible. I haven’t heard much about Microsoft developing updates for Windows CE for netbooks. The mobile team is primarily focused on Smartphones at the moment. But if those ARM powered machines become popular, and that’s a big if, since they provide excellent battery life, but less than stellar performance, I suspect we’ll see Microsoft either step up Windows CE development or porting Windows 7 to work with ARM processors.

Update: As Microsoft Watch points out, Microsoft’s numbers were based on US figures. Since the bulk of netbooks are being sold in Europe right now, it’s not clear how accurate this 96% figure is when talking about global netbook shipments.

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42 replies on “Microsoft: 96% of netbooks use Windows”

  1. My MSI Wind *shipped* with Windows XP, but I assure you, it is not running Windows now.

  2. I know this has been alluded to above, but some things need repeating: all the netbooks that are sold with Windows don’t wind up with Windows being the main OS used. Though it’s of economic importance now that so many are sold with Windows, the percentage that wind up actually using Linux may ultimately be the statistic with more portent.

  3. Numbers can be looked at in different ways and what something means when it is said can also be confusing. I don’t doubt the number because when you separating out some segment of a whole you can easily make the numbers say what you want.

    The question will become what will happen in the future. If MS goes with the current plan for Win 7 I think they will screw the pooch. I don’t mind my current Sammy having XP because Win XP works…and the machine was cheap. But if MS doesn’t make Win 7 cheap and won’t do it without hobbling, then FEWER people will choose Win 7 on their next Netbook.

    The ball is in Microsofts’ court and if they play a game the consumers don’t like they will pay for it with loss of share. MS really needs to drop the price of Win 7 Home Basic so that it is dirt cheap and a better value. Their one goal ‘should be’ to make it so affordable that people won’t even think about it.

    The average consumer is becoming more tech savvy, not less, what fooled people in the past won’t be sure to work again. I think the hardest part for MS is figuring out how ‘in the know’ people are, and the same could be said for Apple. In 1960/1970 most Americans bought American cars, but that changed when consumers got car savvy. I think in the next few years you will see even seemingly non-tech people do what the current industry thinks is impossible…people will buy their first Non-Apple or Non-MS computer.

  4. If suckers want to waste their money supporting M$ then good luck to them.
    They are swimming against the tide of the recession and accepting poorer value for money.
    There can be little excuse for buying M$ when with a small amount of effort one can have something that’s resistent to virii, faster, cheaper, and better.

  5. I would wipe my XP/Vista/Seven from my laptop/netbook/whatever, trying to getting back the money I wasted on something I didn’t ended up using would be harder than entering heaven, as for MS is like you have thrown a solid part of your pc. Silly. And in my country some shops void your warranty if you do that. Even more silliness. Lame. I think I’ll start to use livecds for those computers.

    And something that would be cool is that more manufacturers use the hybrid storage used for the MSI U115 – separating the main OS and the media. Small and fast SSDs for the main os and its basic apps (web browser, chat program, email client, etc) and a big hd for your personal data and additional apps and games. This could be external and maybe dockable below your netbook for having always your data with you. Even if your net/notebook gets lost or broken.

    Sorry for the off topic bit, but I got ideas loaded.

  6. First XP, then CE… can DOS be far behind?

    Here in Canada, the 4 big electronics stores all carried Linux netbooks from the release of the Acer One in july onwards (you could find them before here and there). And they couldnt keep them in stock long enough.
    Most people I know who wanted one had to buy them online from instead of waiting for a batch of 10 to show up and be sold out before they pass by.

    In october, we bought one and a few weeks later my sister couldnt find one since they were still sold out. (I ordered a Dell Mini with Linux and it took 7 weeks to arrive while the XP version my neighbour bought took 10 days. Oh yeah, when Dell released the Mini, the Linux version wasnt available.)
    Since Xmas, they have been impossible to find.

    When a product flies off the shelf, you dont stop selling it.
    Yet the big chains have all taken them off the shelves.
    And the prices are back at 400$ even though the Acer One was down around 279$ in the fall.

    Of course, one quick visit a Staples, Best Buy or Futureshop and you will see the big signs they have for the ‘protection’ service they offer: for 99$ to 150/180$ they will install a one yr subscription for an anti-virus (ever see how Symantec sucks the life out of a machine?) and maybe some other spam/spyware software.
    Its simple math.
    Sell a Linux netbook for 299$ or sell a Windows one for 399$ plus another 150$ for ‘protection.
    Which do you think is more profitable?

    I blame the usual monopolistic habits that were used from Redmond but this is also a pyrrhic victory for them since they had to give away XP. Yes, its an ancient OS but its bad business to undercut yourself so much.

    I also blame the idiots who thought that using the Gnome desktop which looks identical to its GTK cousin, Mac would be a good idea.
    I used to give people different Linux live cd’s so they could see the different looks of Linux and stopped that because Windows users prefered the KDE 3/4 of the time.
    Windows has 90% of the market and Apple in the single digits, which desktop do you think Joe User will relate to more?

    1. It would be helpfulful for and me and others among the unwashed masses to see a comparison of the various Lunux distributions available for netbooks, the advantages and disadvantages for different kinds of users.

  7. Why is everyone so surprised? As I have stated in previous discussions about Windows vs. Linux. Linux is only viable to “tech geeks” such as myself and others who want to experiment with technology. The average consumer learned how to use a computer under the Windows platform so are less more likely to take a chance on switching to Linux. We can pretend that we don’t know or understand why Windows out sales Linux, lets face it. What average user is going to want to search high and low to find compatible applications to run on there systems. So to all Windows haters, it is here to stay, and I love using it myself I have never had an issue with Windows in which I could not resolve myself, and neither should any of you if you are real “Geeks” like me.

  8. Actually, not to be too harsh on Windows, it does serve a useful function for me. It’s a way to make sure the hardware works. Once I know that, I can discard it or tuck it away down at the bottom of a grub menu.

  9. I wonder if there is an accurate way to measure how many use Windows on a netbook as opposed to buying one with it. I am another one who has purchased three netbooks in the past year, one with Linux and two with XP preloaded only to wipe XP for some version of Linux. Am I inadvertently skewing those numbers? As others have mentioned, sometimes the hardware configuration you want in only available with Windows or the price is even better.

    Windows, for me at least, is packing material, like the styrofoam pellets the in the box, only less reusable or recyclable.

  10. That 96% number was brought to you by the people who claim Vista is a success.
    While MS is doing everything possible to push any version of Windows they can onto netbooks (including selling cheap licenses and veiled threats to vendors and manufacturers) they can’t have climbed to that high a number. I think MS has something to do with the “feature creep” in netbooks (to some extent). This has opened up a new niche for linux with the ARM based netbooks. I don’t know that ARM based netbooks would really have had a market if netbooks hadn’t gotten bigger and more expensive.

    1. Great line Bolo: “That 96% number was brought to you by the people who claim Vista is a success.”

    2. It is a “self serving, for marketing purposes” statement for certain.
      “Gross” license sales – not “Net installations retained *and* used” –
      If they had a count of how often I push the “Boot Windows” button vs.
      the “Boot Linux” button – that 96% number would be greatly reduced.

      1. And I, like Bolo – we probably have more machines sitting around us than
        many a small business have. 😉

  11. Are there vendors who’ll create the dual boot for the purchaser? Not all of us are technologically adept. I have trouble with a mechanical pencil.

  12. Horrific news to be sure…I’m wondering how many netbook users are buying them, then blitzing Windows and installing a Linux distro? I did that to my newest one and also did it for 3 client’s of mine. The numbers could be very self serving.

  13. one thing i like about the netbook community is how incredibly diverse it is… however, that’s not reflective of the actual market. all the linux stuff is neat, but it just doesn’t move product like windows does, and won’t, for a very long time.

    linux will lead the charge into ever smaller and more marginal hardware, but windows is where profit is at.

    (and personally, i’ve got zero interest in machines that aren’t running windows)

    1. I can’t help but wonder – how is the netbook community diverse? Vast majority of netbooks are basically the same thing, in slightly different packaging…heck, personally I’m unable to buy a netbook I would like because there’s nothing close to it on the market.

      As for the OSes…as you (and this news) said, Windows dominates again; with some badly integrated Linux distros thrown in, that don’t show full strenght of the OS.

  14. I was recently looking for a cheap netbook in Hong Kong, but couldn’t find one with Linux as the default OS.

    As one shopkeeper told me: “Everybody wants Windows.” — everyone but me, I guess…

    1. Something got lost in the translation there – the phrase is:
      “Windows wants everybody” 😉

    2. Everybody wants Windows? Everybody wants what they know, what they’re exposed to.

      Apple realized this years ago, when they started the Apple stores. They were thought to be nuts but they were right on the money. People were just not getting exposed to the Apple platform in sufficient numbers until the Apple stores spread across the land. Everybody doesn’t “want Windows” in these stores!

      So the reason M$ has all that netbook share isn’t just because it extended the life of XP or cut its price. It’s because the netbook makers know hardware but not marketing. They have no plan or interest to promote an operating system.

      How many netbooks highlight Linux on the box? How are they dealing with the consumer who returns their netbook to the store, saying “Ugh — I don’t know what this is, and I can’t find Microsoft Word!” That’s what stopped the Micro Center chain from carrying Linux-based netbooks.

      It’s only a failure of imagination and marketing dollars, not a failure to compete against M$. Maybe Jolicloud, gOS and Android will be able to convince enough netbook makers to gleefully promote their OS — and support it with repos and branding dollars. “Works with Jolicloud!”

      1. My translation (sorry to be putting words in your mouth):
        Compare the advertising budget of Microsoft ($millions) and Linux ($0) – –

        Your point goes far beyond just a mention on the box.
        With an advertising budget of $0 Linux is doing very well – –
        A few millions in additional advertising would not hurt a bit.

      2. it’s a nice idea but here in ireland there are no apple stores. strange as there is a apple european hq in cork.

        apple penetration is pretty high (and getting higher). i’ve gotten most of my family/friends of ms and onto apple. my brother wants a macbook but he really needs a netbook for portability. i gave him one of mine but the 3g modem refused despite my best efforts to work with anything but windows. so he’s stuck at the side of the road cursing windows when he has to send email.

        me, i get netbooks windows only for legacy software (these days that’s mostly itunes for updating firmware on ipods). linux is usually the prime os on mine. finally got an olpc and used it for 7 hours yesterday with no mains power at a gaming session taking notes. brilliant! little bugger was reporting that there was still 42% battery life left when i was finished.

        can’t wait to see the arm netbooks. no windows on those babies! hopefully a much better battery life. that may help swing people to linux. when i was at a software convention last week it was funny to see people chosing there seating arrangements as close to power outlets to feed their hungry laptops. when they can see a small amount of people going all day without resorting to external power then that may help convince them of the benefits.

        up to now linux on a laptop has been second best as many specific hardware features of laptops are poorly supported. some laptops get better battery life under windows as linux power management was fairly weak. when that changes people will see the advantage.

        when i get the inevitable ‘i can’t find word’ i offer them open office. almost all are put of by the price of word v free open office. and open office is getting much better. have had a few people trying open office as they hate office 2007s new ribbon.

        1. >some laptops get better battery life under windows
          > as linux power management was fairly weak

          Au contraire. Linux ACPI is on par with Windows XP, perhaps better if you count the extensive configurability with the various apps (kpowersave, gnome-power-management).

          Battery life under Vista is worse than XP or Linux.

          What you might be talking about is, some vendors put out BIOS with uncommented, broken DSDT tables which work with Windows but not Linux. But that’s getting rarer and certainly no netbook that I’m aware of has this problem. Also this issue was somewhat mitigated as of I think kernel 2.6.23 and later.

          1. you are correct as to the cause but it still left linux as less efficient till recently. now they are on par in the power stakes. with arm been a linux only playform (winmobile just doesn’t qualify) they can/will surpass windows by a fair margin. a laptop that can last all day might be the killer app especially for students who can use it all day.

            on saturday i was using my olpc at a gaming session. i take notes that in a year or twos time will be the only record of characters and place names as the story progresses. with wifi off and in bw mode and using it 10-15 minutes per hour leaving it on the remainder reading text of the screen. at the end of a 7 hour session it was reporting 42% battery left. i was gobsmacked. till now i had to use mobile phones for keeping notes but i prefer the larger olpc keyboard so now i have a device that is power independent for long periods of time. having standard vi editor is better than even the best editor on mobile phone.

    3. One more thing about the Asian market and Windows — maybe M$FT has better Chinese language support? I was a bit surprised that Linux wasn’t more popular there…

  15. I reluctantly switched from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word because publishers and my academic department wanted Word. Since nobody cares, I am able to use alternatives to Internet Explorer as a browser. I have never used a Microsoft email program. Again, nobody cares so I can do what I want. I left the Windows operating system mostly because my wife and daughter used Macs; it was easier for the household to use the same kind of computer. When I buy a netbook in late May or June, it probably will be set up to run Windows. If so, whether I add a Linux dual boot will depend on how easy it is to do so. Although not a Microsoft fan, I am not a fanatic. My point: the problem for Linux with most netbooks is that users will have add it to a Windows operating system or even replace Windows with Linux. For most non-ideological users, this sounds like trouble. I fear that ARM is Linux’s best last hope for general usage.

    1. Get a netbook with XP professional as then you can totally disable TCP/IP and then you don’t need to worry about VIRUSes on apps you run there (does not hit the internet).

      Then with an UBUNTU – or CrunchBang (Ubuntu based) or Easy Peasy… you will find that setting up a dual boot is easy to do. AND you can READ your XP partitions (NTFS or FAT), but I would do surgery and not be able to WRITE to the same. Use the Ubuntu, or variant of Ubuntu, to go on the internet… and with on your family’s APPLE computers and running either LINUX or Windows you can use the same app on all systems (also many other opensource apps also run just fine on Apple and Microsoft as well as on LINUX).

  16. Porting Windows 7 to ARM is not plausible. Sure, MS could do it, I guess, but Windows would loose the biggest advantage it has – ability to run majority of the apps people are familiar with.

    With Linux otoh, with the vast majority of software beeing open source…it’s largely a matter of recompile.

    1. It is even simpler than that for most application programs –
      The “major” distributions (on which the hundreds of others are based)
      already have, and have had for years, ARM and MIPS repositories.

    2. You’re suggesting that it’s anything more than that for commercial applications? For the ones based on .NET, I’d be willing to bet MS would make it just that easy. Also, I’d be willing to bet all the Windows compatible Open Source software (eg VLC) would be recompiled in a heartbeat.

      1. Yes, it is much more than that – most of commercial apps have codebases that grown for a long time only on x86 Windows. Also, majority of apps people use aren’t written in .Net (and many of those that are, have also some hooks to native win32 libs)

        As for the Open Source advantage…yeah, that’s the whole point. It’s even easier when ALL of your apps are open source. And so is the operating system.

  17. Not suprising since ‘netbooks’ crept up in price, features and now even size and weight to fill in a seamless product line with existing notebooks. $400+ machines will have the Windows tax especially since almost all of the netbook vendors also sell notebooks, laptops, desktops, etc. and must remain on good terms with Microsoft.

    Once somebody starts chasing the bottom end of possible products things just might go back to the Linux penetrations of last year. And even if they don’t Microsoft will be forced to do things that will have major reprecussions. Selling Win7 for $20 will tick other customers off.

  18. It’s implausible that Windows runs on a larger percentage of netbooks than regular machines, so I doubt the 96% figure.

    And the reason Windows has caught on on netbooks as much as it has is simple: Microsoft is playing the same monopolistic tricks with netbooks as it is with other machines; it’s hard to get Linux versions of netbooks even when the models exist.

    (In typical underhanded Microsoft fashion, you can’t comment on their blog with Firefox; the links simply don’t work.)

    1. It’s actually more likely. Normally, Windows has more competition with the likes of Apple, FreeBSD, Solaris, and whatever OS IBM is punting. If you add all of those little peices of the market up, Windows ends up with less then 96%. But in Netbook land, Microsoft is only competing with Linux. I bet that if Apple ever released a Netbook, the Mac types would pick up quite a few of them and the figures would look more like the rest of the market.

  19. That’s disappointing news. I really hope that netbook optimized Linux OS’ will take off in the next round. It’s also disappointing when minority consumers don’t get to choose which OS they want.

  20. Since I usually put in faster and bigger SSD (as some netbooks with SSDs have really slow ones installed), and so YES the unit does get the mod upgrades that are handy to do… What is in the box does not matter anyway. XP is not used, but sometimes the unit I get is discounted with XP to below the Linux version costs, and so I get it, set up a dual boot with CrunchBang Linux and rarely if ever use the Windows XP at all…

  21. For *this* hardware, yes, I think the writing is on the wall. But as ever I look to the release of various ARM based machines to see what people are willing to work with for a(hopefully) lower price and(probably) higher battery charges.

    People are willing to do a lot for less money and convenience…

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