March 8, 2003

The U.S. as a second-class Linux citizen

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

Here's a quote from an article at The Economic Times of India: "Some PC manufactures such as HP sell PCs without software giving the option to chose an operating system to customers from the home segment. Others like Compaq are choosing to load Linux, the free operating system on to their computers." Why aren't U.S. citizens given this same choice?

Every time I consent to an "executive briefing" from a major U.S. hardware vendor that's trying to push Linux servers, the first question I ask is, "When will I be able to buy a laptop preloaded with Linux from you?"

I also ask about desktops. Sometimes they point to an ultra-high-end workstation model and say, "See, we sell Linux on desktops."

Then I get a spiel about lack of customer demand and how hard it is to support Linux, and how this would be a big drain on the company's resources and times are tough.

I will not cite specific company names here. All the big hardware vendors say pretty much the same thing. You'd almost think they had joint script conferences before Linux trade shows and conferences to decide how they are going to answer questions like mine.

We know many popular laptop and desktop models will run Linux without any problem. I watched SuSE use a whole shelf full of Compaq laptops to demonstrate their new Desktop product at the last LinuxWorld, and I wrote my stories from that show on an IBM Thinkpad running Mandrake.

Not only that, I see small companies like's primary low-end PC vendor, Microtel, happily preloading consumer-priced computers with Linux and selling a ton of them at a nice profit. You can even buy a sub-notebook with Lindows on it for under $800 now, albeit one with so few features (the only CD drive offered for it, a USB combo CD/RW/DVD unit, is a $249 option) that it is not such a great deal as it appears at first glance.

Specific hardware aside, it is obvious that it is practical, even profitable, to sell Linux hardware to home and small office users.

You can get the latest Linux-loaded Sharp Zaurus PDA in Japan, but not in the U.S., and there are plenty of other Linux PDAs on sale in Asia you can't get here. I went to Jordan last December, and when I walked into a computer store the first thing that caught my eye, displayed right up front, was a DeskNote unit running Linux.

DeskNote is apparently not interested in the U.S. market; I've emailed them repeatedly requesting a review unit and they haven't even bothered to reply.

And every time I write an article about how hard it is to buy major-brand, consumer-priced computers with Linux in the U.S., European readers point out that they don't have this problem; that they can buy Linux laptops and desktops all over the place.

Living in the U.S. has its good points. Obviously, people from all over the world want to come here and live, legally if possible but illegally if that's the only way they can. But our lack of ready access to reasonably-priced computers preloaded with Linux is certainly not a "sales feature" for the United States of America. Depite our much-hyped technical prowess, this is an area where we seem to be lagging w-a-y behind the rest of the world.


  • Linux
Click Here!