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April 3, 2009

Windows on Netbook PCs: A Year in Review

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we first started to see netbook PCs running Windows come to market.

Little did we know that these devices would evolve so much in such a short time. A year ago, they were Internet-centric devices defined mainly by their tiny size and low cost. An interesting concept perhaps, but sales didn’t really take off until the category evolved into the more capable small notebook PCs we see on the market today.

For example, early Internet-centric models typically offered a 7 inch screen, very small keyboard, slow legacy processors, 512MB of RAM or less, and 1-4 GB SSD storage, whereas typical configurations today have 9 and 10 inch screens, near full-size keyboards, 1GB RAM and up to 160GB storage. Netbook PCs have now extended far beyond Internet browsing to be truly full-functioning small notebook PCs.

Initially, some in the industry viewed low-cost netbook PCs as a new challenge for Microsoft and an opportunity for Linux to make inroads in the consumer market. Some believed consumers wouldn’t want or need their netbook PC to be a full-featured PC. In fact, the exact opposite turned out to be true – a number of analysts and researchers following the space see ample evidence indicating customers really DO want netbook PCs to work like their larger brethren – and that the way the vast majority of consumers make that happen is by buying a netbook PC with Windows.

As a result, the growth of Windows on netbook PCs* over the last year has been phenomenal. We’ve seen Windows share on these PCs in the U.S. go from under 10% of unit sales during the first half of 2008 to 96% as of February 2009, according to the latest NPD Retail Tracking Service data. 

*Netbook PCs are small notebook PCs with a screen size 10.2″ and smaller and a price under $500.

Not only are people overwhelmingly buying Windows, but those that try Linux are often returning it. Both MSI – a leading netbook PC OEM – and Canonical – the vendor supporting the commercial distribution of Ubuntu Linux – stated publicly they saw Linux return rates 4 times higher than Windows. Why such a disparity? Because users simply expect the Windows experience. When they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn’t deliver that same quality of experience, they get frustrated and take it back. Here’s a telling stat: In the UK, Carphone Warehouse dropped Linux-based netbook PCs, citing customer confusion as a reason for a whopping 1-in-5 return rate.

Why are consumers choosing Windows? Because its’ easier to use, just works out of the box with people’s stuff, and ultimately offers more choice.

It’s easier to set up, easier to use, and easier to maintain – Over the last 25 years, we’ve learned a lot about what people want out of an OS, and we’ve built Windows to meet those needs, including:

  • There’s a wizard to help with just about anything, so you’ll never need to go to the command line and manually configure things.
  • Techs all over the world speak Windows, which means it’s easy to get help either online or in person.
  • It’s easy to stay up-to-date since Windows releases updates, patches and fixes on a regular, predictable schedule. And you can set your machine to download and install them automatically!

It just works with people’s stuff – A few examples of Windows unmatched compatibility are:

  • Windows supports nearly 3,000 printers, more than 700 digital cameras, more than 240 webcams and more than 180 digital video cameras.
  • Windows supports the broadest array of PC applications and games.

There’s more choice – 90+ partners ship Windows-based netbook PCs today, so you can get exactly the machine you want at exactly the price you are willing to pay.

Looking forward, we can confidently say that no matter how netbook PC hardware evolves, we’re gearing up to ensure that Windows 7 will run great on them. As we mentioned at PDC, we’ve been testing Windows 7 on netbook PCs since before Windows 7 was feature complete, and our plan is to enable these small notebook PCs to run any edition of Windows 7. From what we’re hearing, our partners are excited to get Windows 7 on these PCs as well.

The last year has been an interesting one, and seeing what’s happening in the marketplace already, and what we’re expecting in the next year, we fully expect the next generation of small notebook PCs will deliver even richer experiences and greater utility. That means that more than ever you’ll be able to find a small notebook PC that exactly fits your lifestyle and interests, just like you can with any other kind of Windows PC.

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