Stop the Noiz

Unlike iPhone, Netbooks Having Minimal Impact on Internet Usage

Frank Fox - 2009.02.06 - Tip Jar

Netbooks are so fantastic that every PC vendor worth its salt - from Asus to HP - is coming out with its own model. Best of all, many of these are available with Linux as the operating system. This is such a frightening prospect that Microsoft agreed to have XP installed on these low budget machines to keep Linux from getting too much traction in the market.

The question is, how well have the sales been going and have the netbooks proved to be the wonderful mobile internet appliance they are claimed to be. As luck would have it, we can dig through the Net Apps data looking for clues.

iPhone on the Grow

for our comparison, we will start with iPhone data. The iPhone has proven popular for browsing the Internet, and we know the exact sales of iPhones thanks to Apple's reporting. In 2008 there were 13.7 million iPhones sold. So how does the Net Apps data look for the iPhone. We can clearly see the release of the iPhone 3G in July. The percentage of iPhones on Net Apps websites grew from 0.15% in Mar 2008 to 0.48% by Jan 2009. That is a change of 0.33% - the iPhone's online share more than tripled.

iPhone online share
iPhone online share, March 2008 to January 2009 (range: 0.15% to 0.48%)

Linux Sputtering Upwards

If the netbooks were as successful as they have been made out to be, we should see that same kind of change in the usage of Linux. There was a small increase in the use of Linux from 0.61% to 0.83% (for a change of 0.22%), a whopping 30% growth. That is certainly not the growth the iPhone had, but Linux did have a bigger installed base to begin with.

Linux online share
Linux online share, March 2008 to January 2009 (range: 0.61% to 0.93%)

What is missing is a peak from holiday sales. What happened? Usage was actually higher back in August 2008. Where are all the people surfing the Web from their brand new Linux powered netbooks?

A little digging around the Internet, and we find out how many netbooks were sold in 2008, around 10 million.

Okay, so there were less netbook sold than iPhones, but it's still large enough to show up on the chart. The next fact we find is that only around 30% of netbooks are coming with Linux. That translates into a measly three million Linux netbooks. That would be pretty good for quarterly sales, but for the whole years it's no wonder there is no big spike in Linux use.

Netbooks may be helping Linux, but they aren't making a significant change.

Windows XP on the Decline

Widows XP online share
Windows XP online share, March 2008 to January 2009 (range: 73.6% to 63.8%)

What about the other 70% of netbooks? These should show up as increase usage of XP. Unfortunately, XP is currently on the downhill cycle. Usage of XP shrank from 73.59% to 63.76%, a drop of 9.83%.


The sale of an extra seven million netbooks with XP has had no impact on the decline of XP. Worse news for Microsoft is while Vista accounts for some of the decline in Windows XP, Vista only grew from 14.02% to 22.48%, a change of 8.46%. That is a net loss of 1.37% between Windows XP and Vista.

Vista online share
Windows XP online share, March 2008 to January 2009 (range: 14.0% to 22.5%)

Windows in Overall Decline

All other versions of Windows (NT, 98, and ME) were on the decline. The paltry seven million additional XP netbooks did nothing to reverse the decline.

Windows, Mac, and Linux trends
Windows overall online share (range: 91.6% to 88.3%) and Mac overall
online share (range: 7.48% to 9.93%), March 2008 to January 2009

The one problem with Net Apps data is that it uses data from measuring hits to specific websites. We can conclude either that netbooks aren't having an impact on either XP or Linux usage or, more controversially, that netbooks aren't all that good for surfing the Web. I have to believe that it is a little of both.

When I surf the Web, I like a big screen, and I increase the size of text on some websites to make them easier to read. Reading text on a small screen would not be my preferred choice.

Surfing with the iPhone is a different issue. When I'm driving the car, I ask my wife to look up directions. While at the store, I might borrow her iPhone to check prices or look for product reviews. The iPhone is all about convenience, and the screen is secondary. The iPhone wins because we are more likely to have it with us when away from home. At home, the desktop computer or laptop gets used.

While not conclusive, the Net Apps data does point to the iPhone as being a better on-the-go Internet device than the netbook, a conclusion we'll see more proof of as sales of both these devices increases and changes in web traffic increasingly show the differences. LEM

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