Linux Netbooks and Return Rates

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Oct 10, 2008 GMT
Rikki Kite

Recently there have been quite a few news stories about the return rate for Linux netbooks, including Kristin Shoemaker's Linux Netbook Returns: Not Surprising, but Likely Avoidable. Those of us who work with Linux and open source tend to forget that often for the average American consumer, open source is still a relatively abstract concept.

If you don't work in IT, hate reading manuals, and only use computers for specific tasks, such as email, shopping, and paying bills online, you probably don't want to spend an evening figuring out why your printer won't work with your new Acer Aspire One. Kristin points out:

"More netbooks -- Linux, or otherwise -- in "standard" retail outlets could reduce the return rate, if only because buyers could see, feel, and try out, even just briefly, the hardware and the software. The product is tangible, the software is right there, and the abstract idea of "Linux" is given a solid form."

Many of the bloggers point out that retailers need to provide netbooks in stores where consumers can get hands-on experience with them before heading to the checkout counter. I hope the retailers are listening.

We haven't had Microsoft products in our house for years now, so my daughter is accustomed to a learning curve when trying new programs. She was delighted to receive an Acer Aspire One for her 12th birthday this week. She opened the box and was off and running. She hasn't cracked open the owner's manual even once, and hasn't needed any help from me to figure out how to use the built-in webcam, or anything else, for that matter. Her only comments have been that it's incredibly small (or as we like to call it – fun sized), the battery charge doesn't last long enough (although I don't think she has any concept of time), and "they sure seem to like penguins – they are in every game."

My offspring inherited my avoidance of reading manuals, but has had no problem figuring out her new netbook without the help of instructions. For that matter, it took less time for me to get the printer working on her netbook than it did when I got my Mac (and I didn't crack open a manual or get online help, either).

As the bloggers are pointing out, it's all about expectations. Consumers will have to be a little less lazy when researching their purchases, and they might even – gasp – have to read the manuals. And retailers need to do a better job of presenting these new products, too.

Probably, with a just a little tweaking in the mindset of consumers, and a better job of marketing these netbooks, return rates will drop noticeably. In these economic times, people are increasingly opening their minds to less-expensive alternatives, and netbooks are pocketbook friendly, in addition to being "fun sized."


  • Linux for non-nerds

    Interesting seeing these sort of messages on netbooks being sent back - bought an Acer One for my wife - got it less than half price as the local PC shop had a pile of them returned and trying to clear - great until we tried to get it to print to any of the Epson printers in our home network

    Finding "drivers" a nightmare and installing them worse - your average user doesnt want to know what a tar ball is or cares what to do with it - just wants to click "install"

    Tried to download Spider Solitaire and the same - I dont want source code - I want to install an application.

    Luckily, for my sanity, this week bought a G1 Android phone and thats more like it - find the application, click, wait to download, point, use - simple
  • support, expectations and the numbers for EEE, Acer One and Dell Mini

    I've seen as have many friends the info that Future Shop and Best Buy give to clients about.
    Its basically; dont buy it. of course, they also sell these protections plans from 99 to 150$ where they install antivirus and malware protection, so its both self serving and the fact that most store monkeys have no knowledge of Linux. The ones I talked to knew less about Linux than my pre-teens.

    I have no doubt that something new is scary. We all feel like that (again, my kids know how to use XP, KDE, Gnome, XFCE with not problem so its not about it being hard) when we are out of our element.
    There is also a question of expectations. If you want to view emails and do the stuff netbooks are intended to, then you should have no problem. if you need a certain Windows app then that is unavoidable. Apple switchers know that they wont be able to run Windows apps but if Joe Public buys a cheap netbook and isnt aware, then it becomes a problem.

    But what bugs me most is I dont know any friend in north america who has ever seen MSI netbooks
    so i would like to see the stats for Acer One's which sold 2 million in one quarter and was planning to sell 1 million in september and of the EEE's which are ubiquitous. Dell will be getting their stuff from Canonical so support will be very important. We all know someone who can help us with Windows machines. Finding a family/friend who is good with Linux is much harder. Support will be crucial.
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