Linux Desktop Needs Major Vendor Support

Opinion: Some day, somewhere, some company will have to have the guts to face down Microsoft and make it possible for anyone to easily buy a Linux desktop.

I have all the respect in the world for the top Linux developers who are gathering the first weekend in December in Oregon to work on perfecting the Linux desktop.

While Im sure theyre going to do great work and make the Linux desktop much more usable for non-techie users, Im also sure that they arent going to be able to help with what I see as the Linux desktops fundamental flaw: a lack of real support from major PC makers.

Now, the big vendors will say nice things about Linux. In fact, some of them, like Dell, sort of offer a Linux desktop.

What Dell actually wants to sell you is an overpriced, underpowered Dell Dimension PC with an empty hard drive, a copy of the obscure, open-source FreeDOS operating system, and no support for Linux.

What a deal!

The only first-tier PC vendor that offers a real Linux PC is Hewlett-Packard.

But even there, if you want a consumer Compaq Pavilion, youre out of luck. Professional PCs and workstations, yes; something youre going to see at your local Best Buy, no.

Only the HP Compaq Business Desktop dx2000 with a Celeron-D 2.66 GHz chip, an inexpensive, but also somewhat unimpressive, PC really fits as a consumer machine.

No, for the Linux desktop to really start going places it needs to be on brand-name, mid-line and better PCs at local and online stories.

Now, Linux desktops are available from smaller companies like Wintergreen Systems, a systems integrator that puts Linspire on computers for retailers like TigerDirect, and Techalign with MEPIX Linux.

But most people arent willing to buy a second-tier or lower PC. If they dont recognize the name, they dont put down the cash. Its that simple.

You and I may know that underneath the case, most PCs are all the same, but Joe Buyer doesnt see it that way.

The reason the big vendors will give you if you push them into a corner about not putting Linux on their machines is that there is no demand for them.

Thats part of it. But, you know, if you put otherwise identical PCs on a store shelf and on some of them you had Red Hat Desktop or SUSE Linux 10 and on the other you had XP Home, and the Linux ones were a hundred bucks cheaper, I really think retailers and vendors alike would find that those Linux boxes would sell like hot cakes on a cold Vermont winter morning.

After all, Linux is a lot cheaper than Windows.

Dont believe me? Then why in countries where Linux is getting traction has Microsoft started offering a cut-rate, cut-down version of Windows, XP Starter Edition?

Hmmm… safer than Windows, cheaper than Windows, and it comes with a free, complete MS Office-compatible office suite by the name of 2.0.

Id think about buying one even if I couldnt even guess at how to pronounce "Linux."

So, whats the real reason I cant find a Linux-equipped Sony VAIO at Circuit City?

Its because, when push comes to shove, none of major PC builders wants to tick Microsoft off.

Its one thing to sell Linux on servers, but Microsoft owns the desktop, and its not willing to share.

Yes, Microsoft was slapped on the wrist for its monopolistic ways, but the big OEMs know darn well that Microsoft can, and would, make their lives miserable if they started to really promote Linux on the mainstream desktop.

Still, as the Linux desktop gets better and better, and its price advantage becomes more and more attractive, sooner or later, one of the big boys is going to break ranks and offer Linux as a full-fledged desktop choice.

Heres hoping that day comes sooner rather than later.

Even if you love Windows, you should hope for that day. Its the only way youll ever see a reasonably priced Windows operating system again.

Ziff Davis Internet Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.


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