Practical Technology

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PC Vendors: Put up or shut up on the Linux desktop


I was really happy when Dell started selling mainstream PCs with pre-installed Ubuntu Linux. The Austin, Texas-based company was the first to break the Microsoft line. Other companies, like Asus with the first netbook, Lenovo with its ThinkPads, and, finally, HP started shipping mass-market PCs and notebooks with Linux too. Well. Sort of. You see, except for Dell, everyone makes it a pain to get their Linux-enabled PCs. And, I’m sick of it.

First Lenovo, which has kept up IBM’s high standards with its ThinkPad laptop, pulled Linux as a standard option from its ThinkPad line. Come on! Linux works great on ThinkPads! There’s been a great site for years about nothing but running Linux on ThinkPads, and I’ve loved using it myself on a series of ThinkPads for even longer. Linux and ThinkPads, they go together better than peanut-butter and jelly!

Today, in theory, you can still get a Linux IdeaPad 10s, a baby-brother to the ThinkPad line, with Novell’s SLED 10 (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop). At least, after a lot of looking on Lenovo’s Web site I found a page that said it was available with SLED. Of course, the page also said, in big letters on the leaderboard that "Lenovo recommends Windows for everyday computing."

I can’t think of any reason to recommend Windows, especially not XP Home, which is the only choice you get with the IdeaPad 10s, for everyday, or any day, computing. Endless security threats, the inability to work with Windows’ own servers, oh yeah, that’s a computer for me. As Carla Schroder said in her review of the IdeaPad, "A very sad, regretful thumbs down, because as much as I like this little computer I hate how Lenovo mis-markets Linux, and I refuse to pay for a Windows license when I don’t want one." Amen sister.

Oh, and by the way, as far as I can tell there is no way to get an IdeaPad with SLED on it through the standard ordering system. Thanks Lenovo, thanks a lot.

As for Asus, it’s not really their fault. There’s a pure OEM (original equipment manufacturer). You can’t just call them up or go to their Web site and order one of their Linux-powered Eee netbooks. You have to find a retailer that carried their netbooks with Linux. Good luck with that.

In my experience, for example, the only Asus with Linux you’ll find at a Best Buy store are the ones with the 7" screens. The ones with the bigger screens? The more desirable ones? They always have XP Home.

According to a recent NPD Group study more than 90% of netbooks sold in November, December, and January shipped with Windows on them. What wasn’t mentioned is that NPD tracks brick and mortar retail sales, not online sales. So, sure if you look just at retail chains that carry almost nothing but Windows equipment, all you’ll see is Windows sales.

To find Asus’ Linux netbooks, as well as the Linux netbooks from other vendors, you need to go to online sites like J&R or Amazon. Or, better still, try ZaReason, PogoLinux or other dedicated Linux online shops for your Linux PC needs.

HP, to give them credit, does actually sell its HP Mini 1000 Mi series with Linux on its site. But, unless you know where to look, good luck on finding it. Would it be that hard to edit HP’s Linux page so that it would be easy to find pre-packaged Linux systems? I don’t think so!

So, with the exception of Dell, my final words for all the hardware vendors who say they support the Linux desktop, would you please, please, make it possible for ordinary mortals to buy your Linux equipment?

One last thing, could all of you keep those annoying "Buy Vista" ads off the Linux sales pages. If we didn’t already know we didn’t want Windows, we wouldn’t be on those pages now would we? Thank you. Thank you very much.

A version of this story first appeared in ComputerWorld.

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