Apparently, this has changed. Tuesday Hewlett-Packard launched its first Linux-based notebook. Other manufacturers over the years have "supported" Linux on notebooks, so what's the big deal? It appears that for the first time, this notebook, the HP Compaq nx5000, just works. It comes pre-loaded with SUSE Linux Professional 9.1 HP edition, which is just 9.1 with add-ons to make sure that everything works right out of the box. Don't worry about the add-ons being proprietary either, as HP has given them all back to SUSE for inclusion in later versions.
The unique approach is that this doesn't appear to be a Windows notebook into which Linux has been shoehorned. It has HP's tri-band wireless card, supporting 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, USB 2.0, FireWire, DVD playback via InterVideo's LinDVD, CD burning, and power management -- all that, in a not-so-ugly package. Most importantly, none of those features are part of the "it doesn't really work" small print.
In the last year, Linux on the desktop has been a major campaign. Sun, IBM, Novell, HP, Red Hat, and a host of other vendors have really been pushing to get Linux outside of the server room. Until now, those initiatives have seemingly been limited to thin clients and developer workstations. This latest offering from HP appears to signal a change. A serious business notebook from a large PC maker coming with Linux installed and fully functional for about $1,140 -- cheaper than the Windows version of the same notebook -- is welcome progress.
Linux has needed more hardware vendor support for quite a while, especially in the portable computer market. Now new computing technologies are becoming available for Linux much more quickly than in the past. We plan to try out one of these HP notebooks to see if there really is a Linux laptop that vendors have finally made "just work."