Ryan Paul reports that Linux notebooks have not been a hit with the consumer world. They have a higher return rate than the Windows counterparts. And the reasons cited hover around hardware compatibility and usability problems.
I am surprised to see the hardware compatibility problems coming up as Linux is a lot polished in this area now. I have my Acer 5920 laptop working with all its bells and whistles using Arch Linux, including the integrated webcam and wireless. In fact I did not have to do anything special to get them working. I am sure other consumer-focused distributions make it more usable. However, some piece of hardware will always be incompatible, and if the manufacturers ignore this, it will be a problem. Even Vista had seen this day.
The other reason which was highlighted as usability problems, was perhaps an education problem, which we, as a Linux community should acknowledge. The worst way of adopting Linux is to get it to do things the way Windows does it. Linux can be better than Windows, but it can better only by being different.
Matt Assay feels that Linux has to at least match the Windows experience. I say the problem lies in trying to sell Linux as a Windows clone. It can temporarily attract people, but they will hit a wall when they see the difference. This creates usability problems because they expect Linux will install applications the way Windows does it, or the desktop will look as it does with Windows. When in fact, application installation is more secure and usable.
I applaud Apple that it has made OS X popular by highlighting its difference, not the similarity. People who want to want to sell Linux should take a hint from it and show consumer how they can be more productive with Linux. However, as a Linux community, the only way we can to avoid copying Windows is to educate consumers about it.
According to me, educating people through seminars, talks, demos and presentations should be the highest priority for the various Linux foundations and user groups. Only then will consumers be able to see the difference and use it to their benefit.