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Linux Preloaded: Coming Soon to a PC Near You

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 1, 2012 5:00 AM PT

It's no secret that many here in the Linux blogosphere greeted Windows 8 with jubilation -- not because they had any intention of using it, but because of the opportunity they think it represents for Linux to capture a greater proportion of mainstream users.

Linux Preloaded: Coming Soon to a PC Near You

That, indeed, was the hot topic du jour last week, but this week -- now that the Win 8 dust has begun to settle -- the conversation has shifted slightly. Specifically, bloggers are pondering the growing assortment of PCs that are coming with Linux already preloaded.

"System76 debuts a sleek, all-in-one desktop PC featuring Ubuntu Linux" was the recent headline that sparked the conversation over at PCWorld, but it has a long line of predecessors, including stories focusing on Linux-preloaded devices from Asus, from Dell and others.

There's no denying Linux-preloaded options are more numerous today than they have been. What does it all mean for our favorite operating system? That's what Linux Girl has been trying to figure out.

'Nothing Less Is Acceptable'

"Linux-friendly vendors and OEMs are long due to the market, since home Linux users are growing in number after the OS conquered the supercomputer and server segments," Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. told Linux Girl down at the blogosphere's popular G+ Grill. "Non-MS-Windows machines are, each day, more common, and many customers are applauding this trend -- just check any social network or blog and count the plus ones and thumbs up."

The question on many minds now, he added, is how prices should compare between a machine powered by a free OS such as Linux and one running a (more or less identical) proprietary one.

"For sure, having before you two identical computers, one with a libre OS and the other a proprietary one, the minimal price difference should be the cost of the proprietary OS license," Gonzalo Velasco C. opined. "Nothing less than that is acceptable for us."

In fact, "making the machines cheaper, or donating a Linux PC to a public school for every, say, 10 machines sold, would be a very nice policy," he added.

Removing the 'Hardest Part'

"Preloaded Linux is the gateway to wider acceptance of Linux," suggested Google+ blogger Linux Rants. "It's that simple."

Whereas "the consensus seems to be that Windows is easier to install and use than Linux, most of the people that think that never had to install Windows on their computer or mess around with Windows drivers, and they have never installed Linux," he offered.

In fact, "the truth of the matter is that Windows is easier to install than Linux because Windows is already there when the computer shows up from the OEM," Linux Rants explained. "A computer preloaded with Linux takes the hardest part about Linux out of the equation."

'The First Step'

All that's missing now is public relations, Linux Rants added.

"The companies that are preloading Linux on their computers need to advertise the benefits of Linux over Windows, and they have to do it a whole lot," he explained.

"Microsoft is spending billions on marketing for Windows 8, but there's no equivalent for Linux," he noted. "Most people haven't even heard of Linux, and those that have usually have only heard the false rumors that have been around since the 90s.

"That preconception has to be changed," Linux Rants concluded. "Preloaded computers are the first step."

'We've Seen This Before'

Indeed, "I think this is a good start, but I want to see how it plays out," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien agreed.

To wit: "Will the Linux option be equally accessible on the web site, or will it present 'We recommend Windows' and bury the Linux option on a page that is not linked to from anywhere on the site?" O'Brien explained. "If you call on the phone, will the sales reps only know about Windows and deny knowledge of any Linux option?

"We've seen this before, so I will reserve judgment," he concluded.

Similarly, "it is nice to see PCs selling with Linux preloaded, but I would like to see how well they sell before I start celebrating," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

'Their Own Worst Enemy'

In order for the "preloaded" trend to continue, Linux users will have to commit to buying such machines, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted.

Typically, "Linux users won't BUY from System76, or Dell, or anybody else selling a Linux built machine, because they want the economies of scale and the 'Windows Tax Break' that comes from a Windows system preloaded with trialware," hairyfeet explained.

"Of course by doing this, not only do they give MSFT more sales to show the OEMs how Linux is a waste of time, they also show the OEMs that making Linux drivers is pointless since those units don't sell," he added. "They really are their own worst enemy."

'Wintel Is on the Decline'

Not everyone saw it that way, however.

"Every major OEM ships GNU/Linux PCs," asserted blogger Robert Pogson, for example. "They have to, because Wintel is on the decline."

For the last three quarters, in fact, "growth in unit shipments of Wintel has been flat or declining," he said. "Consumers only have so much money they will invest in computing, and Android/Linux can satisfy every member of the family for the price of one desktop or notebook."

Today, "the world is finally producing hardware and software that works for the end user and not for M$," Pogson added. "You can buy smartphones, tablets, all-in-ones, notebooks, desktops and cloud solutions all using Free Software. You just have to know where to find it."

Over time, "it's the only way those retailers will get the message," he concluded. "Every Wintel PC they don't sell is another message."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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