Have I already lost my bet?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/1849


I am angry. It’s not a good state to be in, and it’s definitely not healthy. However, today I just can’t help it.

The main problem is that I have a bet going on, and I feel I am going to lose it. My bet is that by 2010, more than 50% of the world’s laptop sales will have GNU/Linux preinstalled, rather than Windows.

Until a little while ago, I was feeling optimistic. However, my optimism fell after I decided that I needed a new laptop.

You’ve probably guessed already: I want a laptop with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled, and I’m having a great deal of trouble finding one.

Yes, I know, there are some honourable attempts out there. For example, there are small laptop shops that make sure that “everything works" in GNU/Linux, and give you a working machine—no fuss. But what is still missing, in nearly 2007, is a big brand (see: Dell, Toshiba, Sony, etc.) marketing, selling, pushing their GNU/Linux laptops. Yes, Lenovo laptops often work well with GNU/Linux, but to me that’s not good enough—in fact, far from it for a start they don’t sell them with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Other brands have started releasing binary-only Linux drivers. Again, this is not good enough; in fact, many would argue that it’s a step towards the wrong direction...

After much complaining, I guess I should come up with a possible solution. Unfortunately, there isn’t “a solution" as such. In order for me to win this bet (I haven’t lost all hope just yet), a number of things must happen.

First of all, as manufacturers will only listen to high-demand, users—end users—must request that machines come with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Some manufacturers will realise that they don’t use Linux-friendly hardware, and will deal with the problem (by creating a new laptop line, or by changing the type of hardware they use).

Also, chip makers must be lobbied so that they release the specs for their cards. Keeping specs secret is a complete waste of time; unfortunately, a few crucial companies out there haven’t understood this just yet.

There needs to be a set of hardware (webcams, cameras, MP3 players and so on) which come with a “GNU/Linux Compatible" logo, so that users don’t worry about not being able to buy hardware at common shops. We all need to remember that asking people to recompile their kernels, or compile a driver, is not feasible for 95% of the users out there.

Laptop vendors need to offer their full support to GNU/Linux. This is the scary part for them: they’ve started with Windows, have grown up with it, and, to a lot of them, supporting Windows has required extensive and regular retraining. However, vendors need to be reassured that supporting GNU/Linux will require work, but is definitely achievable.

Finally, third-party software installation needs to be easy. I am talking about all those pieces of software which come with dictionaries, encyclopaedias, local governments, etc. These things will never be found in a repository, because they simply don’t belong there. For this to happen, a mixture of lobbying and customer demand will do the trick, but it will take time.

I only bet a single dollar—a single gold coin that is worth less now than it was seven years ago when I made my bet. But, when I do end up paying that dollar to Andrea (who is waiting and grinning), it won’t be about me being a dollar out of pocket: it will be about millions of computer users who, because of absurd and illegal and unethically monopolistic behaviours, will still be given a virus-prone, unstable, expensive, privacy-insensitive system—and won’t even know it.

(Maybe I should have said 2015, instead of 2010?)



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

OLPC is runing Linux and their minimum order is a million units. Even with the first order, your bet is safe. :-)

Of course, this is not the message behind your subject line, but in the longer term it is a partial answer. Kids growing up with those laptops will probably NOT chose Windows later.

There are also some shops (in USA) that sell specifically Linux preconfigured laptops. I have seen a recommendation for System76.

feranick's picture
Submitted by feranick on

If any of the big manufacturer will ever make a GNU/Linux PC, Microsoft will immediately go after them. How? Simple. Right now (it's actually always been like that) these manufacturer receive big discounts on licenses for Windows. Without these discounts, a laptop would be way more expensive than it currently is. No manufacturer wants that. After all they are going after the profit.

BTW, let's see how this Novell/Microsoft deal goes. PC manufacturer may be uncomfortable in supporting an OS that may ""potentially"" violate Microsoft IP.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I'm not sure on the exact definition of irony, but is it not a bit ironic that the Google ads on the page for this article actually has a link for System76?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

While it is good to be chasing major computer vendors and encourage them to start selling GNU/Linux PCs I think we shouldn't place all our bets on them.

System76 is only one of the companies who offer PCs and even laptops with GNU/Linux pre-installed and even pre-configured. Let's support those, buy those en masse and Dell, HP and others ought to notice it soon enough that they're losing customers to these smaller players.

And if they don't, then let's bury them altogether and create new leaders out of the GNU/Linux PC companies. ;)


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I feel that you are pretty well spot on in your observations. One of the major stumbling blocks which I believe most users are well aware of is that Linux is still not "understood" by the majority of PC & Software Vendors and for many of them there doesn't appear to be any real reason for them to go out and check it out. In many cases it is easier to believe the myths that it is still an Operating System only for geeks.

As with most things these days there needs to be a CARROT. In just a quick think about this I believe that if more of the younger generation are to be converted over to using Linux then sad as it may be, that will only come about if they are given some fantastic GAME/Sim/Whatever, that is different from anything else on any other platform. The term often bandied about is THE KILLER APP. I don't think an Application (as in Office product for example) is going to do it for the younger set BUT may well do it for the Business Sector or those interested in things other than games. I feel it needs attacking on both fronts, as an entertainment medium and as a productive tool for businesses and individuals.

On the Small Business front something like MYOB is a staple of many such concerns. Just imagine if there were a true alternative to MYOB that did EVERYTHING that MYOB did and preferably something more and/or better. That or some application of the same ilk would I believe then provide a potential reason for an interest and following to develop.

It is also imperative that Linux be portrayed more and more often as a POLISHED product that ANYONE who currently uses a Windows or Apple system can happily use without fear of needing assistance to overcome printing issues, etc. That is going to take some serious consultation with Hardware providers, System Builders and the like. Of course it also will involve the numerous IT related media getting on board with a comprehensive promotion of what Linux has to offer. To a degree there has been some sign of this of late with the late releases of Ubuntu. Most press coverage has been quite positive which is encouraging given the amount of work put into this particular distribution and its current stability. Stability is exactly what Linux needs.

In getting back to the topic of Laptops, sure your bet revolves around Linux and the Laptop but I don't believe that the Laptop is likely to be the driver, Linux itself needs to be the driver, people must want Linux first and then be asking for it on their Laptops.

It is a brilliant OS for Laptops especially now with the soon to be released VISTA. If ever there were an opportunity to promote one of the virtues of Linux over Windows it will be Linux as opposed to Vista on Laptops. The hardware needs to gain full use of Vista are ridiculous whereas Linux is quite attainable.

Well that is enough of my rabbling on for one evening and seeing as though Daylight Saving is only new to this neck of the woods (Perth Western Australia) it is time I hit the sack to let the body clock become a little more accustomed to it.

Tony, thanks for your contributions to a great magazine.

Regards... Phil H.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

All your points make total sense but perhaps one reason we don't (yet) have major vendor distributing GNU/Linux pre-installed is because of the historical nature of GNU/Linux users.

Granted the tide is turning but until recently the average GNU/Linux user was (by necessity) someone who was quite happy wiping a hard disk and installing their preferred free OS. Traditionally they were also people who knew their hardware and what were quite specific about what they wanted. Okay maybe this is just me then :o)

When some vendors experimented[1] with selling machines with (usually Red Hat) GNU/Linux pre-installed the take up was not as big as they might have liked and I think this is because those vendors were not the ones the average GNU/Linux user (at the time) would have bought from.

But - as I said - the tide is turning more businesses are turning to GNU/Linux for critical business applications [ComputerWeekly.com] and as this starts to happen then it opens doors for other uses. One possible outcome from this is that GNU/Linux on the desktop may look more attractive and these businesses will be asking their suppliers for it. As you say if enough people ask... . Of course another possibility is that the businesses will never ask because their suppliers are M$ houses only. We can but hope.

As some customers have a tendency to buy what their supplier tells them to perhaps the supplier needs to be convinced by other market forces. Perhaps what it will take will be a ( for now ) small GNU/Linux PC vendor to start doing some big numbers. Sony switched into the video game market because the CEO read a report that video games were outselling music in the USA. If GNU/Linux users started buying pre-built systems from the smaller (and okay more expensive) suppliers then the bigger (and cheaper) guys would take a bit more notice.

Finally for an OEM to take up GNU/Linux some more distro's will need to work harder at giving OEM's an easy setup scenario. Images are available from Ubuntu (and some others I believe) which allow an OEM to install and the end-user to run through a start-up wizard a-la Window$. Without that the OEM needs to set the root and user passwords and then instruct the user on how to change them. Hardware support they can handle (sort of) and as for software support, any supplier who has good user forums also frequented by support staff, simple directions for security updates and gives good first-time user docuemntation (anyone remember when your PC came with it's own manual?) will soon find themselves popular.


[1] and I mean *experimented* I have yet to see a large vendor really take a risk - on anything let alone GNU/Linux. :o)

ofeeley's picture
Submitted by ofeeley on

You can get a couple of pretty nice laptops from e.g. R-Cubed with Ubuntu pre-installed (or Fedora Core, RHEL or SuSE). But as long as there isn't pressure from GNU/Linux consumers on manufacturers to provide specs on their hardware, then the offer of kernel developers to write free drivers won't be taken up and you'll continue to have difficulty finding a laptop (or desktop )with a well-supported wireless card, graphics card etc. As things stand laptops with Intel 945G chipsets seem to be the best supported, (e.g. the R-cubed offering is built on an Acer that uses it).

Already thanks to the efforts of developers like Greg Kroah-Hartmann there's massive support for GNU/Linux on a wide range of machines. All that it may take now is a bit of consumer education and steering away from hardware that is useless to us.

Another source of pre-installed GNU/Linux laptops is EmperorLinux and they sell a variety of Lenovo/Thinkpad and Sony VAIO models.

impert's picture
Submitted by impert on

A good article, and well written. Yes, I think you've lost your dollar - but not the war. Keep chipping away. MS is huge, but one day will be a thing of the past. Think of Robert Bruce and the spider, think of Ozymandias, think of Arthur Hugh Clough's "Say not the struggle nought availeth" , think of water dripping on a stone . . . seriously, though, the open source/ free software model will win in the end, though the inertia of the market is enormous. The only question in my mind is how long will it take.

Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine