Windows may still be the default operating system on the vast majority of mainstream PCs thanks to Microsoft's many longstanding OEM partnerships, but that's not to say it hasn't been possible for some time to buy desktop machines with Linux preloaded.
No, indeed! Thanks to vendors such as System76, ZaReason, EmperorLinux and others, Linux fans have long been able to get desktops, laptops, netbooks and more preloaded with a variety of Linux distributions -- and that's not even counting several on-again, off-again efforts by Dell, Wal-Mart and others to sell Linux boxes on their retail shelves.
Over the past few months, however -- coinciding, perhaps, with Windows 8's appearance on the horizon -- there have emerged some very encouraging signs that consumers' Linux-based options are going to be increasing soon.
It looks like Linux is quietly creeping back into the mainstream retail world once again, in fact. Here are a few key intriguing examples.
1. Chromebooks at Best Buy
A lot of big news came out of Google's recent I/O developer conference, but certainly one of the most exciting announcements for Linux fans was the fact that Google's Chromebook laptop is now available in Best Buy stores in the United States and at Dixons in the United Kingdom. What's more, an expanded batch of Chromebook models are expected to be available through these retailers in time for the 2012 holiday shopping season. Bottom line: Google's Linux-based ChromeOS will increasingly appear in front of a whole lot of eyeballs that might not have otherwise have seen or considered it. Definitely a “plus one” for Linux, to use Google+ terminology.
2. The New Asus EeePC 1225C
Also in recent weeks we've seen the emergence of the Asus EeePC 1225C, a new member of the Linux-friendly company's netbook line that will come with Ubuntu Linux preloaded. Global availability and pricing aren't yet clear, but it has already popped up in Italy and promises yet another potential alternative for the Windows 8-wary masses.
3. Dell's 'Project Sputnik'
Back in May, meanwhile, we got word of Dell's “Project Sputnik,” through which the company has been working on an Ubuntu-loaded open source laptop aimed at developers. Based on Dell’s XPS13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS “Precise Pangolin,” the project just entered beta at the start of this month. No plans have been explicitly revealed for a consumer version, but the project is apparently “rapidly gaining traction” within Dell. It's also hard not to speculate given reports that Canonical expects Ubuntu to be loaded on 5 percent of the PCs that ship around the globe next year.
4. The Diminutive Desktop
Finally, it's also worth noting signs uncovered earlier this year that Google is eyeing the desktop for Linux-based Android. That, of course, would be in addition to all the tiny and inexpensive Linux-powered PCs currently flooding the market, including VIA's $49 APC, the Raspberry Pi, the Cotton Candy, the Mele A1000, the MK802, the Oval Elephant, and more.
The moral of the story, of course, is that there's never been a better time for the Linux desktop to make its mainstream reappearance. Windows 8 has countless business and individual users running scared, and Microsoft just delivered a hearty blow to hardware partners with its Surface plans. Then, too, there's Windows XP's impending end of life in 2014. Now more than ever, PC users need new choices, and that's something Linux always delivers.