Officials at Microsoft claim that the company in recent months has made stunning gains in the market for netbooks -- low-cost laptop computers that are optimized for simple tasks like surfing the Web and e-mailing.
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"It's hard to believe it's been a year since we first started to see netbook PCs running Windows come to market," said Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft's in-house Windows blogger, in a post Friday.
Citing figures from market research firm NPD, LeBlanc said Windows' share of the U.S. netbook market has ballooned from less than 10% in the first half of 2008 to 96% as of February. "The growth of Windows on netbook PCs over the last year has been phenomenal," wrote LeBlanc. NPD defines netbooks as devices that feature a screen that is 10.2 inches or smaller and sell for less than $500.
LeBlanc said Microsoft's success in the netbook market has come at the expense of the open source Linux operating system, which was popular on early netbook models because of its small footprint and low cost. "Not only are people overwhelmingly buying Windows, but those that try Linux are often returning it," wrote Leblanc, noting that the United Kingdom's Car phone Warehouse dropped Linux-based netbooks after seeing return rates as high as 20%.
LeBlanc said the returns were driven by consumers' desire for a netbook computing environment that mirrors that of full-size PCs. "When they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn't deliver that same quality of experience, they get frustrated and take it back," said LeBlanc.
Netbooks represent the PC market's fastest-growing category. As such, it's crucial for Microsoft to make inroads in the market after a slow start. The company blamed an 8% drop in Windows sales in the most recent quarter in part on its failure to capture a larger share of netbooks. Part of the problem is that the most current version of Windows, Vista, won't run on most netbooks. Microsoft-based netbooks typically run Windows XP, which the company is phasing out.
Some versions of Windows 7, Microsoft's next operating system, have been optimized for netbooks.
"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," said LeBlanc. Microsoft is widely expected to ship Windows 7 later this year, though the company has not officially confirmed a date.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7. Download the report here (registration required).