Think Linux Rules on Netbooks? Think Again

There's been a lot of talk -- including from me -- that Linux is hurting Microsoft because of its big market share in netbook sales. But recent figures from the research firm NPD Group show that it's a myth. Windows now has more than 90 percent of all netbook sales. The game is over.

Back in November, I had written that Linux accounted for about 30 percent of all netbook sales. I based that number on a report by Bloomberg which said this:

Acer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc., which together account for 90 percent of the netbook market, are using the rival Linux software on about 30 percent of their low-cost notebooks.

But that was then. This is now: A study by the analyst firm NPD Group has found that more than 90 percent of netbooks sold in November, December, and January shipped with Windows on them. Just as important is that only in December did netbook sales truly take off. So the earlier 70 percent Linux figure is on a far smaller number of machines sold. Stephen Baker, Vice President, Industry Analysis for NPD, told me this in an email:

According to our numbers the percent [of netbooks sold with Windows] is over 90% for the last three months (November, December, January), when sales actually began to happen (these are US numbers only). Before that there were very few sales and Linux was a much higher percent. For example 50% of all netbook sales in 2008 occurred in December in the US.

Does this mean that netbook sales won't continue to hurt Microsoft? No --- netbooks still mean trouble for the company, because Microsoft gets fewer dollars for Windows shipped on a netbook than it does for Windows shipped on a PC or laptop. And netbooks owners are unlikely to buy Microsoft Office.

But it does mean that when it comes to netbook sales, Linux is a paper tiger.

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