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There's No System Like Linux for the Holidays

There's No System Like Linux for the Holidays

Holiday shopping season is about to hit full swing, and personal computers already rank high on many people's wish lists. If you're going to give the gift of a new PC, should you consider giving one with Linux? If the receiver is a tech-savvy individual, it may be the perfect gift, and the growing availability of preloaded machines means setup headaches are easily avoided.

By Jack M. Germain
11/20/07 4:00 AM PT

The holidays are coming, and there's no better time of year to consider buying a computer for yourself or as a gift. It is also a good time to consider a PC loaded with Linux.

What's that you say? Run Linux instead of Microsoft's Windows Vista? Does anybody really do that?

In a word, yes.

Consumers and businesses have been leaning toward Linux-based desktops and laptops in greater numbers over the last few years. Converts from Windows-based computers usually have little trouble making the transition. Computer newbies often have a shorter learning curve than newcomers to Windows and computing in general. Buying a computer with Linux already installed eliminates the problems experienced by seasoned computer users who add Linux to an existing computer.

"We see a huge following for Linux. Workstation sales increased over the last eight years. Over the last two or three years, there has been a big increase in the purchase of desktop PCs running Linux," Tim Lee, CEO of Pogo Linux, told LinuxInsider.

The Linux Appeal

Surfing the Web, using e-mail and knocking out documents using word processors and spreadsheets are what most people want to do with their computer. Linux does that flawlessly, Lee asserted.

Microsoft's release of the latest Windows version, Vista, has done more to push Linux adoption than anything else, he said.

"Every Christmas season, we get frantic calls about what kind of computer to get and which Linux distribution is the easiest to use. The beauty of Linux is its great access to drivers. Linux is all about choice," Lee said. "The trick is to pick hardware that matches Linux capabilities. Ubuntu is the most hardware-friendly distribution."

Linux Loophole

Consumers and small businesses can generally do the same computer tasks whether they opt for Windows or Linux. However, there are a few caveats to consider.

"Going with an open source operating system like Linux is a great idea if you plan on using the computer only for e-mail, surfing the Web and typing letters. If you want to run a specific application like Microsoft Office or Quicken, or play many advanced games, then you'll need to consider using Windows or Mac OS instead, because those are not Linux-compatible," Richard D. Lee, chief at large at the New York-based consulting and IT firm Pillar Consulting, told LinuxInsider. Lee is also the chief technologist at Brains Function Design, a Web site building and creative marketing company.

Using some cross-platform open source applications can help both consumers and business users solve interoperability issues, Lee noted. For instance, using Mozilla as your browser, Google's Gmail and Docs as your e-mail and your online word processor can escape the Windows and Mac OS worlds, he suggested. Going with Linux will mean a struggle for compatibility and waiting for new applications to be made for it.

Good and Bad

For many general consumers, a PC loaded with Linux may not be a great idea, cautions David A. Kelly, president of Upside Research, a technology research company based in Newton, Mass.

"Unless the consumers are technology savvy, I do not recommend that they purchase a Linux-based PC unless they're using it for a very specific reason or have someone handy that will be willing to support them," Kelly told LinuxInsider. "It's typically more difficult to install and configure options such as peripherals or software drivers when using a Linux operating system."

Still, PCs with Linux preloaded are a great idea for some small businesses and technology-savvy shoppers who want to save some money, he concluded.

Linux in Laptops

Despite the general misconception that few manufacturers support the Linux OS on their laptop computers, most of the major hardware makers offer an impressive lineup of laptops with multiple Linux distributions installed. One rule of thumb: Look at online vendors before you venture into a computer store.

The features packed into these Linux-loaded laptops are the same as those configured with the Microsoft Windows OS. You can find dozens of laptop computers loaded with features and the Linux OS here. The Linux OS is also readily available from well-known computer makers such as HP, Acer, Dell, Gateway, Lenovo and dozens more.

Even some computer manufacturers whose names are not readily known by consumers provide much more than token support for Linux. For example, System 76 offers four laptop models preinstalled with Ubuntu Linux and a range of processor choices including Intel Celeron and Intel Core 2 Duo processors in varying speeds. These models come standard with 802.11 abg (WiFi), gigabit Ethernet and offer Bluetooth options and built-in webcam options.

Configurations Galore

System 76's laptop configurations range from 12.1-inch WXGA (wide extended graphics array) LCD (liquid crystal display) with a resolution of 1280 by 800 to 15.4-inch WXGA LCD with a resolution of 1280 x 800. Installed RAM is available up to 4 GB with all the expected features, hard drive options and a range of mid- to high-performance graphics cards. The prices range from US$699 to $1,099.00.

More laptops with ample hardware to run the Linux OS include two Thinkpad models from Lenovo. The Thinkpad T60 and T61 come with Red Hat/Fedora Linux and Ubuntu Linux preinstalled. Both are configured with a DVD writer dual layer, a built-in 10/100/1000 network adapter and Bluetooth.

Buyers can choose two versions of the Intel Core 2 Duo configured with either a 15.4-inch WSXGA (wide super extended graphics array) + TFT (thin film transistor) and a resolution of 1680 by 1050 at 2.0 GHz with 4 MB L2 cache processor or a 14.1-inch WXGA TFT with a resolution of 1280 by 800 at 2.0 GHz with 4 MB L2 cache. RAM is upgradeable to 3 GB, and a choice of graphics card and hard drive is available. Prices range from US$1,599 to $2,199.

Desktops Too

Finding desktop computers preinstalled with Linux hardly requires the massive searches that it once did. Dissatisfaction with Microsoft Vista is making consumer and small-business transitions to the Linux OS a much easier sell. Direct-from-Web site purchases are easy to do for a growing list of PC makers.

Linux desktops are becoming noticeable on mainstream store shelves as well. For instance, long-time PC-maker Everex now sells its latest PC featuring Ubuntu Linux for $198. Of course, you buy the monitor separately. Dell has opened a worldwide market for its desktop computers installed with Ubuntu Linux.

For the latest rundown on the Linux desktop lineup, check out the listing provided by Linux.org here. Be sure to scroll through the long listing. Manufacturers offering the Linux OS on their desktop line are listed in various locations under several different categories.

System 76 also sells a desktop line preinstalled with Ubuntu Linux in configurations ranging from $399 to $1,599. Intel Duo-core and AMD processors are available.


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