January 18, 2001

Custom configurations for Linux laptops: next project for Tuxtops?

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
Nathan Myers, the former CEO of the now defunct Linuxlaptops.com, says he was
the one who first made the suggestion to Tuxtops that they do custom Linux
configs for laptops. Now, it looks as if
Tuxtops might make a full-time venture out of creating those ready-made Linux
installation images.Earlier this week, Tuxtops announced that
it would no longer sell
laptops
loaded with Linux, but instead would be concentrating on an
as-yet-to-be-named software venture.

Why are they quitting?

Myers, whose Linuxlaptops.com was involved in virtually the same business as
Tuxtops was, says, "The profit margins are razor-thin. Brand-name machines
aren't available at reasonable discounts, and the no-names (although they are
often identical inside) are a hard sell." Not only that, but because they were
selling on the Web, potential customers were often loath to spend thousands on a
machine they couldn't put their hands on first.

The big guys are better able to make a go of it, says Myers, because they don't
have to deal with middlemen, and because they can charge a premium due to brand
name recognition.

Finding the nugget within

Part of what made Tuxtops so valuable to the Linux community was their OneStep
Linux innovation, which had them creating custom installation images specially configured
to each type of machine. According to Myers, in casual conversations he and VA Linux vice president of
engineering Gregg Zehr were having, Zehr was the first to suggest that
developing these custom images would be a great idea. In fact, Zehr told
NewsForge recently that he thinks it would be "a brilliant business move." (Ed. -- VA Linux owns NewsForge.)

Myers says he passed the tip on to Tuxtops CEO Graham Hine, and the company
utilized this particular hack quite successfully. Myers thinks it is possible
that Hine is planning on simply dropping the unprofitable hardware sales and
concentrating on selling the software configurations en masse.

"Tuxtops' current CD product is equally as useful when you buy a machine
pre-loaded with Linux by one of the 'big guys' as it is for a naked machine,
because Dell and others haven't put the attention into laptop Linux
configuration that the specialists have," says Myers.

Does Myers have the scoop?

He says it would be smart for those big companies to get their own disk images
from Tuxtops. "I hope I'm not scooping Tuxtops' announcement by recommending it
here," he adds.

Hine, however, isn't saying exactly what Tuxtops is going to be doing, though he does
admit that the new project will be based on those custom installation images.
"It's more of an evolution," he says. "It's along those
lines, but significantly expanded. The new product will have a number of other
capabilities, and it will take several months to finalize it."

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