Linux Desktop Needs PC Vendor Support

Opinion: If the Linux desktop is ever to be more than a niche player, it needs a hand from PC vendors, including real support from the ones that already claim to back it.

I use Linux desktops every day in my home office. Specifically, I run Xandros 2.5 on one of my desktops and my main work laptop, and SuSE 9.1 on my top workstation. When it comes to desktop Linux, I dont just talk about it, I use it.

But Im about as Unix- and Linux-savvy a guy as youre going to find. I also actually find installing new operating systems kind of fun. OK, so Im a little weird.

I also know, though, after talking with businesses, resellers and Joe and Jane User for years, that most people would rather listen to a "best of" recording of nails being dragged over chalkboards than replace their old operating system with a new one.

This isnt just switching from Windows to Linux. Ive found people still running Windows 2000 instead of XP who wanted to upgrade, and had the hardware to do it, but simply didnt want to go to the trouble and expense of making the jump.

The moral of the story is that if Linux is ever really going to grab a sizable chunk of the desktop market, it needs to be preinstalled.

Now, some systems out there already come with Linux. Perhaps the best known of them comes from Linspire, the operating system company formerly known as Lindows.

You still can buy Microtel machines with Lindows at Wal-Mart for less than $300. The machines are underpowered—128MBs of RAM—from where I sit, but for a home user who wants a cheap introduction to Linux and doesnt want to worry with installing a new operating system, you cant beat it.

I have one myself, and while it doesnt suit my needs as a power users power user, I wouldnt hesitate for a moment to drop one on the desk of most home users.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about a Linux desktop for die-hard Windows users.

If you look around, you can find other preinstalled Linux desktop PCs, but youre not going to find them in every CompUSA or Office Depot. Indeed, even Linux hardware vendors such as Penguin Computing are far better known for servers than for high-end workstation lines. Finding a midrange Linux desktop PC just isnt that easy.

Now, there are a few white box vendors out there that deliver Linux desktops and notebooks that are neither low-end systems nor high-end workstations. Element Computer, for example, offers both a business notebook and a midrange integrated display/PC with its own house brand of Linux. In fact, theres a whole marketplace out there waiting for small system integrators who want to make a name for themselves as Linux desktop box providers.

Thats good news for resellers who want to take their shot at greatness, but its not easy setting up a successful Linux PC hardware company. Just ask the vets of VA Linux, which eventually left the PC business to become OSTF (Open Source Technology Group), the parent company to Slashdot and NewsForge.

With PC prices hovering at all-time lows, managing enough profit margin to keep a new PC vendors nose above water isnt a job for the faint of heart.

Next page: Buying from brand-name vendors.