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.