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Linux On Netbooks — a Complicated Story 833

Posted by Soulskill
from the comfort-zone dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Keir Thomas has responded to the recent raft of news stories pointing out that Linux's share of the netbook market isn't as rosy as it used to be. Thomas thinks the problem boils down to a combination of unfamiliar software and unfamiliar hardware, which can 'push users over the edge.' This accounts for the allegedly high return rates of Linux netbooks. In contrast, although far from superior, Windows provides a more familiar environment, making the hardware issues (irritatingly small keyboard, screen etc.) seem less insurmountable; users are less likely to walk away. 'Once again Microsoft's monopoly means Windows is swallowing up another market.'"
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Linux On Netbooks — a Complicated Story

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  • And another reason (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:16PM (#27538661)

    It was impossible to buy a Linux netboox in my city.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:20PM (#27538693)

    I had an Asus netbook with Linux demonstrated to me, wanted to see how webpages looked on the tiny screen. In the end, the guy at the store had to pull out a cable and plug it in, because he couldn't get WiFi to run. He suggested, I should just pay extra for Windows. To that sales guy, getting Linux wasn't "buying the alternative", it was just "being cheap".
    And frankly, since that was probably his first contact with Linux, that's actually quite understandable. A machine, that comes with Linux preinstalled, and it won't even run the devices that are built in? That's ridiculous, not to mention unneccessary. It's not as if building a Linux with working WiFi was rocket science.

  • by TheOtherChimeraTwin (697085) on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:22PM (#27538707)
    Yes, it is much like the notebook situation -- most of the current offerings run Windows, and Linux isn't an option. I'm looking forward to a nice selection of ARM netbooks later this year.
  • Re:Performance (Score:2, Informative)

    by Symbolis (1157151) <symbolisNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:34PM (#27538765)

    Might want to give Easy Peasy [wikipedia.org] a shot.(Horrible name, I know.)

  • Dell is guilty (Score:5, Informative)

    by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:36PM (#27538779) Homepage Journal

    ... or maybe Red Hat is.

    To clarify: At work we recently ordered a Dell Precision Mobile Workstation (forget which exact model it is) with Red Hat Linux preinstalled. When we got it we found that it did not have the necessary drivers for the Ethernet port (wireless worked fine) or the audio output device. Going to Dell's and Red Hat's web site resulted in nothing. We scrounged around the internet, but find some partly working solutions. In the end we just ended up installing Ubuntu which worked out of the box.

    For me this is the sort of thing that makes Linux look bad and PCs in general look bad. It is if they don't care. For me it unacceptable for a computer to be supplied with an operating system that does not support completely the hardware it is bundled with, whether it is due to missing drivers or something else.

    I blame Dell here for being to lazy to ensure quality of product. Techies may be the primary market for the product, but techies don't want to spend time fixing someone else's fuck-ups either.

  • by penguinchris (1020961) <penguinchris@@@gmail...com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:37PM (#27538787) Homepage

    This is the key issue - availability. If you go to Asus' site they list all sorts of different models, all of which they say have Linux as an option. When you go to actually buy one - no matter where, online or in store - there are only a handful of models available, and as pimpimpim notes, they are generally the less capable models.

    I wanted the Lenovo S10e - Lenovo doesn't offer a non-Windows version so I didn't have a choice. I got it and wiped the harddrive and installed OpenSUSE, no problem for me, but I don't like the fact that I paid for Windows in there somewhere.

    Interestingly the S10e has two drives - the main disk and an additional 4gb SSD with some sort of instant-on Linux distro - but I didn't even know it was there before wiping both drives :) They obviously didn't push that feature too much if I hadn't even heard of it despite researching the thing before buying it... but I do appreciate that I have a 4gb ssd to do something with apart from the main disk.

    Anyway to get back to the topic - I did get an eee 901 for my girlfriend, with Linux - which seems to be more common with the SSD models. I couldn't get it in the color she wanted, though - again, they are picking and choosing specific models to carry, and I just don't see the logic. I did install a different distro for her - eeebuntu, as it is very well put together for the eeepcs and she needed more functionality than the Asus distro offered - and she is painting it herself. But we are clearly not normal purchasers, who would do neither of those things themselves, but who would have liked different options available at purchase.

    It's not good for anybody - the manufacturer, the reseller, or the consumer - to limit choices. The manufacturers claim to have all these options - why can't resellers get their acts together to actually offer them?

    And, how many people, like me, aren't counting towards these statistics accurately because a Windows netbook was the best deal (or only option)? I mean, realistically, it's probably not that many people, but still. It's something.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:49PM (#27538867)

    I've told people not to get a Mac as it wouldn't play their PC games. They didn't believe me, they bought a Mac, then realized nothing worked, and promptly returned it.

    My boss wanted a netbook for travel, but he had a hard time believing our in-house Windows app wouldn't work on the Linux model...

    People just think it's a computer, and anything should just run fine regardless.

  • by atarione (601740) on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:59PM (#27538945)

    and I have to say in my view if I was anyone else in my family I would have returned it.

    I have some friends that could have probably dealt with it.

    but while everything i want / need it to do is working great getting there was a bit of a hassle. Openvpn was in the default OS (Linpus) install but the tun kernel module was not?? for that matter to open up the advance mode you have to hack (trivial hack but hack none the less)

    several updates from acer wiped out my tun module and joystick module and I had to re add them...Nice one one of the updates screwed up all the quick launch icons / apps (which unless you've unlocked the advance mode is the only way for people to launch the apps..nice)

    I love my little aspire one and it goes many places with me that my old thinkpad didn't (cause it was too much bother to lug it out and around). but the linpus has been far from a cakewalk. I thought about putting windows on it but the SSD on my 110 is really not well suited for running XP and I do like the 10sec or so boot time so after a bit of head banging getting some stuff working it looks like I'll just stick w/ linpus now.

  • by donaldm (919619) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:07PM (#27539003)
    Here in Australia you can't get a netbook with Linux unless you go to a speciality store. Still if you are willing to use Google for a few minutes you can find those stores and save up to A$100 compared to the equivalent netbook in a department store running XP. This is not to say that XP is actually cheaper than Linux, I have seen speciality stores where the XP version of the netbook was the same price as the Linux version effectively making the cost of XP zero dollars and if you take into account some sort of virus protection and Open/Star Office this leads to the conclusion that Microsoft is subsidising heavily.

    To me it looks like Microsoft is willing to loose or forgo money if it means it can prevent Linux form making any inroads into what it assumes is it's exclusive territory. Of course it has to be careful otherwise it may find itself coming under investigation since in many countries it is still classified as a monopolist.
  • by matazar (1104563) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:26PM (#27539113) Homepage

    That doesn't really help.
    Before I left Staples, all we had was Linux Netbooks at the time.
    People would come in and we'd tell them, this is NOT windows, you can not use windows software, blah blah blah. They'd buy it anyways and return it when they couldn't install Office (even though it had open office) or some other software that was for windows/mac. We also had one return it because their USB mouse didn't work, but I think they were just stupid, since any mouse should work on those netbooks.

    People don't like change. They should get some dual-booting netbooks. At least people could give Linux a try now and then while still being able to go back to windows when they need to (play games).

  • by perryizgr8 (1370173) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:43PM (#27539205)

    So in short, Linux is better than windows, but you will have tinker a lot with it.

    that is a contradiction. if you have to tinker with linux to make it better than windows, its not better.
    also, i've noticed that ubuntu 8.10 runs faster on my laptop than xp. this is the first time i've seen someone complain about linux's speed.

  • Re:Dell is guilty (Score:3, Informative)

    by donaldm (919619) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:45PM (#27539227)

    At work we recently ordered a Dell Precision Mobile Workstation (forget which exact model it is) with Red Hat Linux preinstalled. When we got it we found that it did not have the necessary drivers for the Ethernet port (wireless worked fine) or the audio output device. Going to Dell's and Red Hat's web site resulted in nothing.

    Ah I see you problem, you brought a Dell :) We use HP workstations and blades and everything works with Redhat V4 and V5 as well as CentOS V5. I actually use Fedora 10 on my HP laptop and everything works including Wireless, sound and the inbuilt camera.

    I blame Dell here for being to lazy to ensure quality of product. Techies may be the primary market for the product, but techies don't want to spend time fixing someone else's fuck-ups either.

    You are dead right here, when a vendor sell a product everything should work. This is pure laziness which borders on the criminal. Actually most HP commercial hardware usually sips sans OS so you have to install your own which if you know what you are doing is quite quick and easy to do.

  • by ciggieposeur (715798) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:54PM (#27539271)

    (seriously, I love PostgreSQL), but it is not even close to Oracle (DB2, maybe)

    And there you go showing your ignorance. DB2 has been a better database than Oracle for quite a while.

  • Re:Performance (Score:2, Informative)

    by michaelmanus (1529735) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:58PM (#27539295)
    GP is correct, even with Easy Peasy. That distro gets horrible battery life on my eee 1000. Better is eeebuntu, but even that gets horrible battery life. I love ubuntu; I used it as a desktop for work for the last year and at home, but I installed windows xp on my recent netbook purchase after frustration with the various netbook distros. The other thing about linux on a netbook is: firefox 3 runs javascript like a dog, and that really shows up when you don't have a beefy machine. It runs javascript much better on windows because its optimized for windows. Also, flash player videos tear like crazy. Turning off some of the compiz stuff works to an extent, but flash, again, is optimized for windows. That's the reality of the linux desktop, and that really pains me.
  • by zkiwi34 (974563) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:00AM (#27539301)
    I have to wonder about your "credentials." My 83 year old father manages to use Linux for pretty much anything he want to, and has had virtually nothing in the way of a problem. So... I'd have to guess you're more confused by how things work if it's not Windows rather than being what you claim.
  • by wisty (1335733) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:58AM (#27539615)

    There are lots of non-oss programs that have silly names. Nothing quite reaches GIMP in sheer ... gimpyness, but some are a bit weird:

    Powerpoint - I want a slideshow, not a thing to plug an appliance into.

    Excel - WTF? Oh, the spreadsheet program.

    Access - Erm, yeah, like the Aston-Tate Database competitor. Riiiiight.

    Hypercard - Nope. No idea. Maybe Steve had shared his stash with the marketing department?

    Visual Studio - for editing source code. So it's like, visual.

    Outlook - Look out?

    Safari - got Explorer envy?

    The .NET framework - because I really want to search for a technology that happens to share the name of a TOP LEVEL DOMAIN. LIKE; .NET ALREADY TAKEN GUYS. What could be stupider than using a name that matches a large fraction of the internet?

    com - as above.

    Kazaar, Bittorrent, Limewire, Napster - do they get together to make a really big robot monster?

    Oh, and my favorite - Windows.

  • by Insanity Defense (1232008) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:45AM (#27539839)

    They didn't have a high return rate, which makes one wonder why MSI had higher return rates on their Linux based models. Was it not as easy to use as the custom Eee's Xandros? That'd be my guess.

    They delivered a Linux model without drivers for some of the hardware. I believe that both the webcam and wireless networking were not functional on the Linux version. Call it incompetence or a conspiracy, take your pick.

  • by MostAwesomeDude (980382) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:51AM (#27539871) Homepage

    I bought my Eee at a Best Buy.

  • My favorite "useless feature" is track changes in Word. Do you have any idea how surprised people get when they send me a Word document and I send them back all my edits with cute little bubble comments next them? Does OO support track changes? Cause if they dont, that is a shame... it is a damn useful feature once somebody drops change-tracked document on your lap and you go "wow, I never knew this existed!".

    Writer can track changes. And a Word document imports into Writer with such tracks intact, I have used it on occasions to exchange documents with Word users.

  • by Grimnir512 (1449641) * on Saturday April 11, 2009 @04:22AM (#27540385)

    My favorite "useless feature" is track changes in Word. Do you have any idea how surprised people get when they send me a Word document and I send them back all my edits with cute little bubble comments next them? Does OO support track changes? Cause if they dont, that is a shame... it is a damn useful feature once somebody drops change-tracked document on your lap and you go "wow, I never knew this existed!". But I can only imagine the number of 37-signals followers who sit around and call it "useless bloat!!! off with its head!!"

    OpenOffice does have track changes, under a slightly different name:

    Edit -> Changes -> Record

  • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @06:26AM (#27540803)

    This netbook did not have Flash pre-installed, and he was unable to install it himself by following the links on the website, so he asked me for help.

    That's odd, I have a EeePC701 and it had flash pre-installed (along with adobe acrobat reader and other commercial software).

  • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @08:08AM (#27541181)

    Compare GIMP to paint.net since they are more similar in capability than photoshop. GIMP is quite simply a pain in the ass to use.

    I have spent countless hours on paint.net, in all honestly, I find the GIMP easier to use, but I assume that's because I'm more used to it. That said, it didn't take me so many hours to get used to the GIMP.

  • by PastaLover (704500) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @08:21AM (#27541221) Journal

    This was hashed out in the recent thread on 96% windows penetration. The fact of the matter is that:
    1) Some vendors actually had the gall to sell netbooks that didn't have working wifi under linux, then claim they were netbooks. They saw higher return rates but others (dell and was it acer?) didn't. Chalk one up against the basic premise of the article.
    2) After Microsoft decided to really enter the netbook market netbooks with linux on them suddenly became impossible to get. Whether this has anything to do with Microsoft or more with the stores choosing brand awareness I don't know. The fact remains, people that went into a store somewhere in the last few months were extremely unlikely to even be offered the option.

    I've recently broken down and ordered an MSI Wind. I'll probably not bother to try and get a refund on the Windows (it's a huge hassle, and I might never see the money) but it's gonna run Ubuntu either way.

    What we really need is someone to come in and make the major suppliers give us the option of getting a laptop without an OS pre-installed. Why the hell in 2009 are we still dealing with this shit where you simply cannot buy anything in a laptop form factor or below without paying the Microsoft tax. (disregarding macbooks for a minute)

  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Saturday April 11, 2009 @10:31AM (#27541879) Homepage

    Friendly, perhaps, but not quite resourceful. The decentralized nature of the Linux community means we don't have "official" support people, you know, people who are die-hard experts at identifying, troubleshooting and solving problems. Instead we have a bunch of so-called "power users" repeating the same half-truths and suggesting solutions that go "This is what I did, if you're doing anything differently then I have no clue" or "I heard so-and-so hardware was junk, so that MUST be your problem". It's this monkey-see monkey-do stuff that doesn't actually help, because there is no explanation, no teaching just band-aids.

    It also means we don't do proper user testing. For example, in my job, whenever we build a new interface or web page, beyond normal testing we usually get the sales guy to run through it. He represents the typical web-savvy office user, but has no coding experience. Even he is more nimble than our average user, from the bits and bobs he's learned from us over time, but he's great for finding UI annoyances like non-obvious buttons, formatting issues and misplaced widgets.

    Here, I'll give you one concrete example of what I deem a UI failure: the Gnome file-open dialog. It has auto-completion, but instead of listing possibilities in a drop-down, or shadowing it inline (like IE's autocomplete), it just replaces my text box with whatever it finds, and moving my cursor to the end as I type. That means if I'm blindly typing a filename like "somefile.txt", I might end up with "someotherdoc.docfile.tgaxt" as it found "someotherdoc.doc" and "somefile.tga" while I typed. That, in my opinion, is code that should never have shipped! When the default usage pattern is ruined, it is a critical failure and the typical Linux desktop is full of these.

  • by oiron (697563) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @10:32AM (#27541889) Homepage

    My favorite "useless feature" is track changes in Word. Do you have any idea how surprised people get when they send me a Word document and I send them back all my edits with cute little bubble comments next them? Does OO support track changes? Cause if they dont, that is a shame... it is a damn useful feature once somebody drops change-tracked document on your lap and you go "wow, I never knew this existed!". But I can only imagine the number of 37-signals followers who sit around and call it "useless bloat!!! off with its head!!"

    Actually, it's a fairly useful feature - kind of a VCS inside the file. Damn powerful when you want to see who made what changes in a file. I don't use it much, but my dad pretty much depends on it.

    And yes, OO supports it - has since the original Star Office only days, I think. It's one of the first things we looked at when the first versions came out.

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Saturday April 11, 2009 @11:28AM (#27542201) Homepage Journal

    http://www.eeebuntu.org/ [eeebuntu.org]

    It supports all the eee HW functions and hotkeys out of the box.

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