Windows or Linux for a netbook?

In PC hardware, the netbook category is getting a lot of attention these days. These small, light, cheap ultraportable PCs, exemplified by the ASUS Eee PC, the MSI Wind, and the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, are this year’s most-hyped gadgets.

The new conventional wisdom says Windows Vista is too demanding to run properly on these lightweight PCs, and that Linux is the equal of Windows XP.

Maybe, once again, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Laptop magazine interviews the director of sales for MSI, who says that return rates for Linux-based Wind netbooks are running four times those of Windows-based models. Based on internal research, he says, the main cause of those higher return rates is Linux.

Meanwhile, Kevin Tofel at JKOnTheRun tried upgrading an XP-based MSI Wind to Vista Ultimate and was pleasantly surprised by two things. First, availability of drivers wasn’t a stumbling block:

Everything went smoothly on the Wind but of course, many driver components were missing. MSI includes a driver disc for XP but I didn’t want to install everything from there since they were XP drivers. Instead, I only installed the WiFi driver. That worked fine and then I hit Windows Update for 33 software and driver updates. I was very impressed that Windows Update found drivers for almost all of the various components in the Wind, such as the Intel graphics and chipset, Ethernet and more. Basically, everything but the Bluetooth driver was installed or upgraded by Windows Update, which was a far better experience for me than when Vista first hit.

And second, Vista performance was more than just OK:

I stand corrected on one thing already: the Intel Atom is exceeding my expectations in terms of handling Vista. I’ve got the Windows Experience Index above for those who are interested. Yes, the Aero features of Vista work quite well; in fact the Flip3D feature is darn near seamless!

If you’re in the market for one of these devices, you really should be reading JKOnTheRun regularly. Here’s a link to all posts tagged “netbooks” to get you started.

10 thoughts on “Windows or Linux for a netbook?

  1. I desparately want one but as a non tech user am confused as to the best configutaion – solid state, size of hard drive, screen resolution, etc. I plan to use only for E Mail and internet when travelling.

  2. I saw a netbook for $349 with 1GB of ram and 1.8ghz processor… more than enough to handle Vista! Unfortunately it came with XP, but it would work well no doubt!

  3. OK, this is just ridiculous. Why don’t you guys put your money where your mouth is and start a company that would ship Vista on a netbook, and see how well you do 🙂 We’ll all be in for a good laugh.
    Hey, you must be right: put Vista on a netbook damnit! It’s not bloated, not one bit. Just believe it and you’ll be able to do it!

    The question is: who will be the first fool to risk it?
    If you run Vista on one of these things, you are either stupid, or a MS sales rep.

    Also, I don’t believe one second the claims about the linux returns. What would linux make you return this thing for? Have you ever seen one of these things, or know what they are great for? I have one and I can not see at all why would one care what the OS underneath is… You just browse, read your mail, listen to music sometimes and fire up a video every now and then. What in the world would I care what OS is running it? It makes sense to keep it cheap and put an OS that costs nothing in license fees…

    It’s like saying people are returning their phones because it’s not running Vista or XP… get a grip guys.

  4. Returned not because Windows is better, but because: “many consumers pick up the cheaper systems and then realize that the Linux system is not what they are used to.”

  5. @Joe D

    You seem to assume that anyone can just sit at a computer and understand how to use it. I’m sure many people buy a new netbook, sit down with it and get completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of Linux.

    Secondly, have you used Vista recently? I will concede that I am skeptical about the Atom being able to run it efficiently, but throw a gig or two of ram at it and I am sure it runs quick enough for “just browse, read your mail, listen to music sometimes”.

    Now the machine is capable of the every day computer usage, with a familiar UI and the ability to run familiar programs.

  6. Joe D: The quote about Linux sales was from the Sales Director at MSI, who is hoping to make more money selling machines by including Linux versions. What benefit does he get by publicly making that statement? You’re screaming FUD at the guys who made this decision to begin with. Face it, people dislike the Linux versions more than the Windows versions. The WHY is open to discussion, the failure of Linux here is not.

  7. Carmen: there is a simple and very plausible “why”: rebates or kickbacks from Microsoft. This is very common practice. No data is available on this, simply lots of blogs and articles repeating the same “4 times higher returns for linux”. Is it 4 times for all manufacturers on average? Which manufacturers are we talking about? What was the time period this applies to? A year, a month, a week? How many returns are we talking about? 10, 1000, 1 million?

    This is the typical FUD statement. There is nothing to back it up, and there is a money reason for it to be issued. Netbooks are hot selling items. I don’t see any MSI linux netbook on newegg (only XP), don’t know if they ever made one, the figure state probably doesn’t come from their own rate of return. This claim could mean anything, typical FUD.

    I for one don’t care at all what OS is in my netbook, as long as it performs well. You don’t see much of the OS on those things anyway. I seriously doubt Vista will perform anywhere close to well.

    That statement from MSI was quite a success, they managed to generate quite a few posts out of it. Good for them. But it’s still FUD.

  8. Joe, if you’re going to open your mouth, you might want to read first. Your comment sounds incredibly ignorant when matched up with the supporting links.

    Several of the questions you asked are answered explicitly. This was from one manufacturer, MSI, covering the period from last June to the present. During that time they have sold 150,000-250,000 units per month. They did a survey of the users who returned units to learn why. If you follow the link to the MSI web site, you will see their Linux models.

    Meanwhile, you can doubt that Vista will perform well on a nlotebook. However, the guy who did it, Kevin Tofel, is one of my most trusted sources. He and James don’t pull punches, and they have been plenty critical of Vista in the past when it has fallen short. I’ll listen to the guy who’s actually trying this, not to what someone thinks should be true.

  9. Folks have also been putting OS X on the Wind and Dell Mini 9… given the nearly instant standby (which seems to be a cross between Windows standby and hibernate), it’s a good option for a portable device like this. Vista may be too large for some of the SSD drives – the Dell ships with a max 16GB SSD drive.

  10. I like the idea of a Linux netbook for a couple of reasons.
    It fits the minimalist nature of the device. With the keyboards and the size of the screen I can’t see doing much more than email or surfing briefly. I put Vista on older 1.5 GHZ Dell Inspiron 8600. I think it may have been a driver problem but it ran okay but the mouse seemed to go in slow motion if I used the track pad.
    From what I understand these new Atom Processors are not to powerful at this point. I think a light weight Linux OS is about right.
    I can see why non tech people would return a Linux based operating system they’re use to Windows it works like they expect and that’s really all they want.

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