Windows Dominates Netbook Market

Netbooks have taken the world by storm since their introduction in late 2007. This sub-notebook market has grown from the Asus Eee PC to multiple vendors and many models vying for superiority. Beginning with the Eee PC, many netbooks were characterized by their Linux Operating System, but Microsoft, quick to notice their growing popularity, resurrected Window XP and entered the battlefield. Even coming into the game late, Microsoft's decision seems to be paying off, according to the major netbook PC vendors.

In Q3 2008 Acer released an 8.9" netbook, the Aspire One, and has since leaped past Asus as the world's leading netbook vendor. Selling 2.15 million of a market total of 5.6 million units, Acer currently holds a 38.4% market share. The Aspire One, which is available with either Windows XP or Linux, has shown the growing preference for Windows. "Our Windows XP netbooks are outselling Linux machines by more than 9 to 1," said Henry Lee, senior product manager - retail channel manager, Acer Computer Australia. He says the trend is not limited to Australia, continuing, "what we have seen when we launched the Aspire One around mid-year we found that the Windows numbers increased [worldwide] over time. Six months later, the percentage of Windows sales appears to have peaked and stabilized at a very high level."

Check out the Google trend for 3 of the most popular netbooks:

This bodes well for Microsoft. According to Lee, Acer's netbook sales are growing 20-30% each quarter. Some industry commentators fear, however, that netbook sales are eating away the market for higher end computers. Lee, as well as managers for other netbook vendors, disagree. "Overall what we're seeing with our numbers is that netbook sales haven't cannibalized the full-sized notebook sales. Because of the functionality of the netbook you do have limited performance in what it can do whereas the entry 15 inch type notebook allows for better graphics, optical drive suitable to watch videos and so on." He believes that few people will do all their computing from a netbook, and most users will also purchase a full-sized notebook.

Dell and Toshiba have come to the same conclusions as Acer. Matt Tumminello, Toshiba's notebook product marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand says, "We've launched our netbook locally with Windows (only) but I know that our European counterparts have launched it with both Linux and Windows. And I also know that in Europe from what we've been shipping from the factory that something similar to that 92% Windows mark would be true."
He also agrees that rather than sapping the sales of full-sized notebooks, netbooks have created their own, new, market space.

Tumminello and Lee believe that the netbooks do very well as an email and picture viewer, however, without the graphics or processing capabilities of larger notebooks, users can quickly become frustrated with their lack of power. Even though they are used primarly for simple tasks, as netbook sales continue to rise, Windows XP continues to draw more users than its Linux counterparts. While the Linux versions have a well-developed, easy-to-use interface, the familiarity of XP has proven to be a strong selling point.

Even with Windows commanding a huge lead, netbook makers are not going to write off future Linux models, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of netbooks will revolve around the Windows OS. Lee noted, "The Linux netbooks sell particularly to hardcore Linux users who want to customize their system." This becomes even more apparent as reports are surfacing that even in its pre-Beta builds, Windows 7 outperforms both Vista and XP on netbooks. When Windows 7 begins shipping, if Microsoft releases a low cost version with netbooks in mind, and it performs well, it could help bolster Microsoft's image.