Linux investigate

Pre-loaded Linux: The solution to a mass of problems

Find out why Jack Wallen believes that purchasing a machine with pre-loaded Linux helps solves problems that are currently plaguing Linux.

Pre-loaded Linux
Recently, I've been looking to purchase a new machine. This all started with the problems I experienced with a new Lenovo desktop machine and PulseAudio (I've been going on about this for a while now). That same machine, which is less than a year old, has now started to display a newer, more frustrating issue of randomly powering off. Sure, there are a litany of possible reasons for this, including:

  • Bad power supply (haven't checked this)
  • Bad CPU fan (not the issue)
  • Bad RAM (all RAM passes Memtest86+)
  • Bad hard drive(s) (both drives passed e2fsck)

But since this machine has given me nothing but problems from the second it was unboxed, it's time for me to consider a new route. I've narrowed my choices down to the following:

  • Buy an iMac and set it up to dual-boot Linux and OS X
  • Buy from a company that sells pre-loaded Linux

Either way, I know that I'm going to be spending more money than if I were to go through the usual big box stores and purchase the standard fare. Either of these choices, to me, is much better. Why? Here are a couple simple reasons:

  • The iMac is proven, solid hardware that will last a long time
  • The pre-loaded Linux machine is hardware that I know will work with Linux, and it helps support “the cause”

While contemplating my choices, it became very clear that the pre-loaded Linux option solves more than just my own problems -- it also helps to solve a good amount of the problems plaguing Linux. Let me explain.

One of the biggest hurdles Linux faces, with regards to the average user, is simple -- people either don't know about it or they don't have the skills to load it on their computer (although, considering how easy it is to install Linux, I always question statements like that). Beyond that, the average computer doesn't always have supported hardware for Linux (but that also is becoming less and less the norm). 

What a pre-installed Linux machine (one from, say, System76 or ZaReason) eliminates is all the guesswork you must do to know if a system will work with Linux. If you buy a machine from System76, you know that when you unbox it, that system will work seamlessly with Linux. You also know that, should you have a problem, you can place a phone call and speak to an actual person who not only gets Linux but can also help you resolve your issue.

Yes, these are small companies, and their prices are higher. And they will continue to have higher prices until the numbers afford them better margins. Once that happens and System76 can produce the same quality machines they are now (with the same outstanding support) on a large scale, the game will have officially changed.

However, for that to happen, the companies selling pre-loaded Linux machines need support -- they need people to drink the Kool-Aid and buy. Once they've reached those heights, which no one thought a Linux-based company could reach, these same machines may potentially appear in big-box stores, where the average consumer can finally experience the power, reliability, and flexibility of Linux.

For people like me, this is a no-brainer. If given the choice between a Mac and a system built specifically for Linux, I'm going with the latter. And, yes, I realize that System76 rebrands Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) hardware (for example, their laptops are re-branded Clevo hardware), but they ensure that every piece of hardware in a system works well with Linux.

Some of you might remember Lindows and the great Walmart debacle. To sum it up, Walmart started selling cheap desktop PCs pre-loaded with Lindows (a Linux distribution set up to resemble Windows XP). They sold out very quickly, but the machines were just as quickly brought back. Why the returns? People thought they were getting Windows. At the time, Linux was still not ready for the average user, hence the returns.

The average user today would have no trouble hopping onto a Unity desktop and getting their work done (and now, thanks to Steam, get their play done as well). But even with the improvements and evolution of Linux, the masses still need to understand that they're getting an alternative to Windows -- one that offers them a virus-free, secure, and far cheaper experience. Those resellers, re-branders, retailers of computer hardware who want to sell Linux-based PCs must take a page from the previous experiences and evolve, learn, and understand that, with a bit of care, they can get Linux to the masses.

I don't believe Linux will ever reach the masses with its current delivery system. The average user doesn't want to have to buy a PC with an operating system and then install another over it (or beside it). The average user also doesn't want to have to deal with the issues surrounding secure boot or worry about partitioning a drive. Ultimately, the average user just wants to buy a PC and use it. Period. To that end, someone (probably Canonical) has to work some magic with a vendor and get a Linux-based PC that people want -- really want. This PC must be completely an out-of-the-box experience geared for the average user. In other words, it must just work. Bundle that PC with Steam, make sure all codecs are installed, and hire someone who knows how to write documentation geared specifically for the new-to-average user.

Once this is accomplished, a lot of problems for Linux will be solved. First and foremost, you'll get Linux into the hands of the masses. Second, you'll show hardware vendors that Linux is ready to be taken seriously on the desktop. Finally, you'll open the eyes of small- to medium-sized businesses to the idea of Linux on the desktop.

I make it sound like it should be a simple matter of “build it, and they will come.” However, I'm not that delusional. I understand there are plenty of hurdles facing such a proposition. But System76 has been doing this for eight years now, and ZaReason has been in business for seven. Both companies continue to grow and give back to the open source community. So, this all starts with a relationship with those already indoctrinated in the ways of Linux. Support the small companies already supporting you and the platform you choose to use, and they will, in turn, grow to the point where they can offer lower prices and even more systems.


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

82 comments
janitorman
janitorman

I agree, but why would anyone pay MORE for a free OS on the same hardware regardless of its capabilities?

"Ultimately, the average user just wants to buy a PC and use it. Period."

Yes, Jack. FINALLY someone says it.

They also don't want to deal with the DOS box (or equivalent) and typing in code. I got used to it, but people think that's pretty primitive and that puts them off. True, that's being fixed, but until the "terminal" is pretty well hidden except for diagnostics in the rare event of a glitch or failure, it's seen as "not as good" nowadays.

The Ubuntu Software center could help, I suppose, in installing applications, but I took it off every older system I've installed any flavor of Ubuntu on, because it froze them up completely, so far, therefore I shudder when I see it. I suppose if it were built into a NEW system and actually worked OK (and it may, for some of you) it would really help. Synaptic is much better in my opinion, and doesn't freeze they system, but what newbie knows to use that? It also has it's problems like having to add a repository if you want something that's not in the "standard" ones, which can be confusing. (Yes, I know the reasons for not being able to just download and install whatever virus-ridden Windows program are out there.)

Also a user friendly firewall and virus scan software (WHAT, you say it's not needed? RIGHT) especially in networked environments with Windows would be quite helpful.

giscoord
giscoord

If google can market and sell Chromebooks, which in my opinion aren't really  computers anyway and new windows based systems have a learning curve for existing users (many new purchasers want anything but Win8 because it looks so different), why not market a Linux base system.

blastradius
blastradius

Hi

All fair points.  Quick question though, who does a good job supplying Linux computers in the UK?  Also, I presume that I can pick my distro? (Debian obviously), I wouldn't buy an Ubuntu machine, used to run it but not since Unity.

randmart
randmart

Linux is approaching a period of great opportunity for growth as WinXP support ends next year. The life of many older computers could be extended if drivers were available.  The computers could find a second life through charitable organizations if linux driver were available. 

I spend days trying to put various flavors of linux on an old but very serviceable laptop for a non-profit organizationto which it had been donated.  Failure was caused by the lack of video drivers.


psengr_techrep
psengr_techrep

I checked Dell's website today and saw Ubuntu 12..04 listed as an available pre-installed OS on Latitude laptops . . . . but when you drill down to order, the OS is flagged as China only.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

I have always said that Jack Wallen is full of it and all his advice is not based on technical knowhow as far as “Hardware” and OS s.

First off, now days most people are not hardware inclined as it was the case of the 1980s – people put together their own PCs and those PCs lasted for ever; not only that, they had in the box what they wanted and not what companies want to put in them; let’s face it, companies are there for profits and not for quality. Since day one, Apple made superior computers than Intel based computers but again, those were the days when there was a war going on here in the USA about microprocessors, RAM, etc. I bet that nowadays people never heard of Zilog or National, or Burr Brown and of course Motorola. However, Apple always had a compatibility problem as far as Motorola microprocessors not being backward compatible which has never been the case with Intel but with graphics Motorola has always been superior and speed as well. So, why not build your own PC with the best hardware in the market? I have a PC which I put together back in the late 1990s with the best motherboard, graphic card, I/O card, etc. and still works like a charm with Windows XP Professional.

Also, I have never been of the thought regarding dual boot but instead I like to have just one OS which I can upgrade at will and even go from one UNIX platform to another. As far as Windows I believe that it has always been plagued with problems such as crashing for no reason something very rare with UNIX platforms.

Why Windows and not Linux? The answer is simple: Windows was made for the home use since day one and most people at home use it mainly for e-mail and social networking and for that UNIX is an over kill. Unlike Windows, UNIX was designed for the enterprise and not for the home user; hence, its robustness.

As with all OS s UNIX platforms have come a long way but still the home user and non-technical people like Windows for its friendliness.

As for Jack Wallen and his PC I bet that the problem might be the motherboard. Nowadays, power supplies are managed by the motherboard (brand PCs anyway); however, if the power supply has a heating problem then of course that might be also the problem and here is when building your own PC shines: You use the best of hardware available and a power supply which is not managed by the motherboard; so, problems are minimized! Also, software for the Mac is far more expensive than for the PC unless all you want to do is e-mail and silly editing.

Bottom line is…building your own PC!

clivel
clivel

It is not just installing the OS that is holding people back from using Linux as a mainstream consumer OS.

As big an issue, if not bigger, is the difficulty in installing applications.

I recently released a cross platform Windows/Linux freeware application aimed at an older demographic. For the Windows version I spent a few hours creating an installation program using "Inno Setup" now all that users need do, is run the setup, agree to the licence, and a few minutes later the program is ready to use. In comparison creating the Linux package took a lot more effort and is only likely to work on Ubuntu 13.04 which is what I was using.

Until there is a reliable distribution-agnostic consumer friendly Linux application installation system, Linux is doomed to never succeed in the consumer market.


jbdough
jbdough

I am not affiliated, nor ever a customer with http://www.eightvirtues.com/ but can attest to responsive customer service regarding an inquiry I made a few years ago. Eight Virtues is the first pre-loaded Linux PC vendor I was ever aware of.

ToriToriTori
ToriToriTori

Buy an iMac? to use Linux..., seriously?, because the hardware is better?, seriously!!!.

Craig_B
Craig_B

It seems Linux is all about freedom and choices, though people need to understand some things before they can make the choices that work best for them.  Yes, Linux can come up with the Consumer Edition Linux (CEL) and prepackage that and make it easy for people (in effect make the choices for the user, at least to get them started).  Even if this was done, I think marketing would be key for people to understand the basic choice of CEL vs Windows or Mac.  I think people will end up using Linux and not even know it, such as on tablets, smart phones, etc.  The people who want to really use Linux, will as always make that choice.

Saud Hassan Kazia
Saud Hassan Kazia

until developers make as good software and games geared towards Linux. even this concept would do well.

gabeg4
gabeg4

Why are System76 and ZaReason considered to be the only companies selling systems with Linux? What about AVADirect, Mythlogic, XoticPC, and other Sager resellers like them? They sell systems with no OS installed and with Linux pre-installed. Wouldn't purchasing Linux systems from them also send a message? Since most of them already sell more systems than System76 or ZaReason, they have lower costs for the user.

3rd Coast Geeks
3rd Coast Geeks

I agree. When purchased there are no compatibility issues. As easy as it is for me to install I have seen people have issues with installing it on the correct drive or worse.

Randy Myers
Randy Myers

Making my own DVD is immediately available.

Kumaran Vivekananthan
Kumaran Vivekananthan

Linux flavour are much easy to use than windows. It is very hard to hack compare to windows.

Saurav Banerjee
Saurav Banerjee

the bad thing about the Ubuntu is that they stopped to ship their cds to us

Julian White
Julian White

Drivers preinstalled would be good, but as usual we get hit with bloatware.

Steve Liddle
Steve Liddle

with the exception of my hard coded netbook, installing linux is very easy

Andrew Jake Borbe Aguda
Andrew Jake Borbe Aguda

But still, Windows monopolizes large Corporations as the world wide used OS. I hope Ubuntu can change the game.

Alex Thomas Haddox
Alex Thomas Haddox

@Marcel Dunkelberg I'm talking about community's like Ubuntu and their forums and all the countless YouTube video for beginners and experts and how willing people are to help and how much more they teach you that you didn't already know as a learning/beginners point of view starting out with Linux I had no idea what to expect and was able to learn some of the in and outs of it just on YouTube alone people told you what you need to have installed how to use programs like WINE ext ext you'd be surprised at how helpful and open the community is compared to windows and OS X

tarose.trevor
tarose.trevor

couldn't agree more Jack ... and I think SteamOS could be a massive step in that direction (particularly with the gaming, and therefore graphic design, modelling etc. that goes hand in hand with that community)

Jason Wong
Jason Wong

Community support? ? You bet lol

Крис Скотт
Крис Скотт

How does purchasing a machine with a OS that plagues linux help solve linux? Stop posting articles from linux morons and follow linux professionals.

Arthur Zubarev
Arthur Zubarev

What are exactly the problems? What i see buying a Linux preloaded machine has no cost advantage. MAC is an exception - it is more expensive. Otherwise Linux gets patched more aggresively than Windows, but claims to be more secure. The office software is not at par with Windows Office, but for other reasons Linux is OK.

Marcel Dunkelberg
Marcel Dunkelberg

@Alex Thomas Haddox You love its community? I'm working with computers since the age of 6 (C64, Amiga, Windows, Linux) and I have to say, that the Community is one of the mayor problems of linux. As an expert I am aware that RTFM most of the time is a good hint but newbies are shocked getting in touch with that so-called community. Experts helping Experts but they have big problems with helping the noobs.

Nicholas Bruzdziak
Nicholas Bruzdziak

rod trent you are wrong that no one uses linux. Have you heard of Android?

Alex Thomas Haddox
Alex Thomas Haddox

I love linux and its community but it still feels like its not consumer ready in some places and way ahead of its time in other places but ultimately what pushed me away was the lack of support for basic programs/games and WINE wasn't going to cut it so now I'm happy with Windows 8.1 and perhaps I'll switch back in a few years or dual boot.. who knows

Chrissy Olinger
Chrissy Olinger

Linux will never catch on because it WANTS to be "special" and confounding to average users. Installing it alone puts most of them off. The attitude Doug Thom Stewart expressed is typical, right down to the sad misuse of a simple word like "is" rather than "are." Complicated does not mean better, and genuinely intelligent people make things SIMPLER.

Andrei Ciortan
Andrei Ciortan

I use windows 7 ultimate just because I have some day by day programs I use.. tried to get friends with Linux.. it's just not for me..it is like someone would tell me to choose between lady Gaga and Rolling Stones..

Mark Hutchings
Mark Hutchings

No one? How funny. Isnt the #1 smartphone OS running Linux? Isnt consoles coming out running Linux? Hasnt there been major companies already announcing converting over to Linux? Oh, those no ones.

Doug Thom Stewart
Doug Thom Stewart

Linux is not the error, the lazy point and click windows only users, who are unwilling to learn how to USE a computer is.

Rod Trent
Rod Trent

Since the main problem is that no one use Linux, yeah, I guess that would solve that one.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

@clivel 

Very true; however, not all UNIX platforms are created equal and some are better than others. The main problem is friendliness as you mentioned and compatibility - what works in one platform might not work with another.

The-Jetman
The-Jetman

@clivel   Actually, it's not the difficulty of installing apps, esp for recent iterations of Ubuntu.  It's the fact that you can't simply go to a computer store and buy anything for Linux, there are high-profile commercial apps/games for Linux (eg. like an Intuit Quickbooks), and esp NO iTunes, Hulu, etc...

When high-profile COMMERCIAL vendors start rolling out Linux apps as part of their official product suites, then there'll be impetus for pre-installing Linux.  Yes, I know it's a chicken-or-egg paradox, but there has to be a critical mass of commercial software before PC vendors give Linux a chance...

mark
mark

@ToriToriTori 

My thoughts EXACTLY. 

I dont think I will pay an extra 20- 30 % for an os I wont use that comes with an INTEL CHIPSET just like ANY OTHER COMPANIES PC. 

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

@Craig_B Seems like i remember hearing that Android was a Linux-based system. Wouldn't that indicate that,  in that sense,  _millions_ of consumers are already using it?

digera
digera

@Chrissy Olinger My sentiments as well; smart folk can make complexity look really simple by knowing what's going on from within.

digera
digera

@Mark Hutchings Yes, yes, and yes.

VortexCortex
VortexCortex

It's idiots like Doug are the reason why Linux Desktop never became mainstream

randmart
randmart

@Doug Thom Stewart  

Adapt and thrive.  Stay stuck in the command line and rot.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

@Doug Thom Stewart    So you are saying that consumers should learn to drive an Indy car when a Chevy Malibu would do what they want to do?

mark
mark

@Doug Thom Stewart 

 LOL so you mean a computer shouldn't just work on a point and click. 

Dont get me wrong I am a Redhat Admin however  if the average user cannot just click and go they will use something they can "Just Use" People (including myself) do not want to babysit an OS. 

I know Linux better than most however I still have to occasionally take a beating on something that should JUST WORK. I always get the issue resolved but I can tell you 90% of the people would break something in frustration. (or end up calling me to fix it for them) 

Meatkibbles
Meatkibbles

@Doug Thom Stewart Yes, the USERS are the problem...do you even listen to yourself?

VortexCortex
VortexCortex

@The-Jetman  If the lousy Linux zealots gets out of the way, then yes, PC vendors will jump on Linux bandwagon. The whole reason Linux Desktop hasn't taken off is because of these damn zealots (I prefer to call them communists) who demand the commercial developers release their software as open source. Commercial developers have legitimate reasons to keep their products closed-source (i.e. to protect their intellectual property rights), but the communists don't respect the developers' wishes hence the developers shunned Linux. Until the sane Linux users recognize their fellow zealots/communists as the real obstacles to Linux adoption and kick them to the curb, Linux Desktop will be stuck in the abyss for all eternity.