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Linux owns 32 percent of netbook market, says study
Nov. 05, 2009

ABI Research is projecting that in 2009 Linux will represent 32 percent of netbook sales, far higher than the seven percent figure claimed by Microsoft, says a report. ABI estimates that Linux will overtake Windows on netbooks by 2013, largely due to sales in less-developed countries.

In its most recent report based on its UMDs (Ultra-mobile Devices) study, which covers netbooks, MIDs, and UMPCs, ABI Research says that almost 35 million netbooks will be shipped by manufacturers in 2009. ABI did not publicly break out sales by specific segment or operating system, but a ComputerWorld story by Eric Lai quotes ABI analyst Jeff Orr as saying that the study shows that 32 percent (about 11 million netbooks) of this year's netbook shipments will be used with a Linux-based operating system. Since Apple has yet to release a netbook, the remaining 68 percent belongs to Microsoft Windows, projects ABI.

As Lai points out, despite the two to one edge for Windows, this is a far cry from the 96 percent advantage Microsoft claimed to have enjoyed in April. Microsoft has now updated its projection by telling Lai that "over 93 percent of worldwide small notebook PCs run Windows today." This would suggest that even Microsoft agrees that Linux netbook sales have rebounded, at least slightly.

Dell's Linux-ready Mini 10v

According to the story, Orr says that while Windows enjoys a higher percentage of U.S. sales, the picture is different overseas. "Just because you live in the United States, don't assume that everything is on Windows," Orr was quoted as saying. Non-U.S. consumers have less experience with Windows, and therefore don't have to overcome the fear of switching to something new, Orr was said to have told Lai. According to ABI, the largest share of netbook sales belongs to the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Beyond that, Orr did not mention other Linux netbook trends except to say that "Ubuntu is a popular choice on netbooks." He did tell Lai, however, that going forward Moblin, Android, and Google's Chrome OS will also lead the way on Linux netbook distributions.

Although Orr doesn't note where these distros stack up for 2009, Android and Moblin are only just now appearing on netbooks, with Moblin being repackaged and combined with desktop brands like Ubuntu and OpenSUSE, so they are not likely to rate more than a blip in the 2009 numbers. Chrome OS, meanwhile, is not due out until next year.

Orr was also said to have predicted that increasing sales of ARM-based netbooks will continue to push up Linux netbook share, especially in less developed countries where overall netbook growth will increase at the highest rate. As a result, ABI projects that Linux will overtake Windows on netbooks by 2013. To address the ARM challenge, Orr told Lai that Microsoft should do what it did with Windows XP on netbooks, and slash prices on its ARM-ready Windows CE or Windows Mobile.

Further publicly revealed findings in ABI's UMD study include the projection that UMDs, including netbooks, MIDs, and UMPCs, will top 124 million systems shipped in 2011. Meanwhile, the separate "mobile consumer electronics" category, which includes personal navigation devices (PNDs) and eBook readers. is expected to move from two million device shipments this year to 50 million in 2014.

As for netbooks, the research firm noted that while in 2008, 74 percent of netbook shipments came from Acer, Asus, and Samsung, the 2009 market is far more diverse. Major PC vendors selling Linux-ready netbooks include Dell and HP, which offers models such as the Linux-ready HP Mini 110, pictured above, at left.

Revisiting the Linux netbook question

The lack of reliable figures on OS share has led to considerable speculation about the respective netbook shares of Windows XP vs. Linux, where the former appears to have dominated over the last year after a fast 2008 start by Linux. Signs of trouble in the Linux netbook world emerged last fall after a promising start in which some analysts figured that Linux had captured as much as 30 percent of the market, compared to one percent in the desktop market in general. Much of the growth came with the groundbreaking Asus Eee PC (pictured below, at right) and subsequent Acer Aspire.

An MSI executive then claimed that returns of its Linux-based MSI Wind netbooks were more than four times higher than those of Windows XP netbooks. In early April, a Microsoft executive announced that an NPD Retail Tracking Service study showed that Microsoft owned 96 percent of the netbook market, and he agreed with MSI Wind that Linux netbook returns were four times higher than with Windows. A Canonical (Ubuntu) executive disputed the MSI and Microsoft claims, while others noted that the NPD story only looked at brick-and-mortar retail instead of online sales, and did not cover international sales.

Yet, a study by Ovum did indeed suggest a slippage in Linux netbook market share. Ovum did not publicly report percentages, but said that the Linux netbook share had dropped considerably in late 2008 and early 2009. Many believe the major cause for the gap has been Microsoft dropping the price of Windows XP and applying other channel and vendor pressures.

This summer, the issue resurfaced when Microsoft's COO Kevin Turner gave a speech claiming that Linux netbook returns were four or five times higher than with Windows. In August, a Dell executive reportedly answered this by saying that his company's Linux netbook returns were roughly equivalent to those for Windows-based netbooks.

Lenovo gung-ho on Windows 7 netbooks

While some may question ABI's 32 percent claim, others believe that Windows 7 will halt any possible swing back to Linux on netbooks. An EETimes story by Rick Merritt quotes Howard Locker, director of new technology for Lenovo, as saying that Windows 7 will make it less likely that notebook makers will adopt Linux-based netbooks.

Locker was quoted as saying, "Our S9 and S10 model netbooks had Linux loads, but they didn't do well so we stopped selling them." Here, Locker was referring to systems launched in October 2008 for the education market, according to the story. Since then it's been pretty much all Windows on Lenovo netbooks, however.

One problem that Lenovo's customers have had with Linux is its lack of support for Apple's iTunes, Locker was said to have noted. Meanwhile, Windows 7 improvements such as a claimed ten second boot time and one second resume, will fend off Linux-based alternatives, Locker told Merritt. Other touted Windows 7 features include a better suspend mode, lower power consumption, and UI enhancements like multi-touch support.

Despite its upbeat take on Windows 7, the notebook giant is evaluating alternatives, including Google's Linux-based Chrome OS, Locker was said to have noted, although he added, "It's too early to tell because they don't even have alpha code to test."

Locker also had some interesting things to say about wireless technologies, calling ultra-wideband (UWB) "a DOA dead technology," and predicting that Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G networks would someday supplant WiFi.


ABI Research’s “Netbooks, MIDs and Mobile CE Market Data” study is said to include forecasts for all Ultra-mobile Devices (UMDs), including UMPCs, netbooks, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and mobile consumer electronics (CE) devices. Shipments and revenue for these devices are broken down by UMD type, region, platform, operating system, connectivity, and navigation attach rates, says the research firm. More information and a table of contents may be found here.

The ComputerWorld story on the study may be found here, and the EETimes story on Lenovo's netbook plans may be found here.

-- Eric Brown

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