Buyers give thumbs down to Linux netbooks

High returns prompts retailer to drop Linux machine

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Carphone Warehouse is to stop selling one of their Linux netbooks after the return rates went through the roof. The Elonex Webbook, which ships with Ubuntu, was taken back to the shop by 20 per cent of purchasers. Contrary to some reports, the laptops are not being 'recalled.'

It seems the main problem is customer expectation; people expect a netbook to work just like a normal laptop and are surprised when it doesn't. Behind that would seem to be a lack of willingness to acquiesce to the charm of Ubuntu. Around 60,000 of the netbooks were shipped; mostly with a broadband bundle.

It's not the first time we've heard about high return rates for these reasons. TechRadar has previously investigated strong rumours of high netbook return rates to DSG stores (PC World, Dixons, Currys.digital) but was rebuffed.

And it seems that high return rates aren't only a problem this side of the pond. In an interview with Laptop Mag in the US, MSI's Director of US Sales Andy Tung admitted that people just weren't used to Linux. "Our internal research has shown that the return of netbooks is higher than regular notebooks, but the main cause of that is Linux," he said.

'Not what they are used to'

"People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don't know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realising that it's not what they are used to."

"They don't want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store. The return rate is at least four times higher for Linux netbooks than Windows XP netbooks."

Consumers may be realising that you do actually get what you pay for - and that cheap netbooks don't actually come with the ability to edit video or work just like Windows. At the launch of a big-name netbook in the summer, TechRadar spoke to a product manager who admitted the big problem with netbooks was letting consumers know what they were buying.

We spoke to Ben Russell, a recent Eee PC purchaser. "I find the OS a little bit confusing coming from a PC background - and to be honest I still prefer my Windows laptop. However it is light, cheap and fine for a bit of word processing, email, etc. The biggest bugbear is getting Mobile Broadband to work. It took a long time to get up and it's still not stable or doesn't work every time. It's a real downside."

Informing consumers

In the UK, DSG is adamant it is getting around any problem by informing customers. "We are making big efforts to educate consumers as to the usages and limitations of netbooks versus laptops. Netbooks are perfect for people who want to keep in touch, surf the net or read documents while on the move," said DSG's Head of Consumer PR Anina Castle when we asked her about the rumour of major netbook returns at the end of August.

"They are far more convenient and provide a full range of viewing functions required while out of the office or home, while the PC or laptop remains the prime storage hub for files and data. We are advising our staff and customers that the best way to think of them is – "Netbooks are for viewing, Notebooks are for doing!"

We also put the rumour to Asus, the company behind the Eee PC. "We can categorically state that the rumour about returns is not correct as far as the Asus Eee PC range of netbooks is concerned. Again we should add that Asus, of course, cannot comment as to other manufacturers and their products who may be experiencing this 'returns' problem you have heard about."

And of course, it's worth remembering that even if 20 per cent of netbooks running Ubuntu are being returned, 80 per cent of them have found happy homes. Could it still be the case that netbooks are the Linux Trojan horse?