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Linux Pre-Installed Laptops Probably Aren’t Enough to Get the OS More Visibility

Linux Pre-Installed Laptops Probably Aren’t Enough to Get the OS More Visibility Image
  • Posted on 20th Jul, 2022 11:36 AM
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Linux laptops are starting to make an appearance, but the real issue for adoption isn't the hardware, it's the compatibility with all the software people are accustomed to using.

  • Many vendors have recently announced a range of laptops with Linux pre-installed.
  • These devices have powerful, impressive hardware, making them an attractive option.
  • Software, not hardware, is the main hindrance in the adoption of Linux, suggest experts.

System76

The lack of Linux pre-installed laptops has hindered the adoption of the OS. But recently, a slew of such offerings have hit the shelves. 

Besides being powered by Linux, these laptops have some impressive specifications. For instance, the System 76 Lemur promises 14 hours of battery life and is powered by Intel's latest 12th generation Alder Lake processor. Then there's Tuxedo's Pulse 15 Gen2, with the thin but powerful AMD Ryzen 7 5700U processor featuring a 15-inch HiDPI WQHD 165Hz display.

"Anything that puts PCs pre-installed with Linux into the hands of paying consumers can only help promote and widen the appeal of Linux, being a generally good thing," Neil Mohr, Editor of Linux Format magazine, told Lifewire over email. "The high-spec of these models does point to the target market being a specialist, highly knowledgeable segment, but it's helping build up support networks and market confidence in Linux and its user base."

Echo Chambers

Michael Larabel, founder and principal author of computer hardware website Phoronix, enjoys seeing new Linux laptops in the market but doesn't believe they'll necessarily attract more visibility to Linux.

Popular software has to work [on Linux] without issue [for Linux] to be truly mainstream.

"For the most part, these recent announcements have been from vendors that have long offered Linux laptops," Larabel told Lifewire over email.

Adding to this, Chris Thornett, former editor of Linux User & Developer magazine, notes that most of these vendors have operations that strongly target their local market. 

"I've always been a fan of System76, but the reality is they aren't a global company," Thornett told Lifewire in an email discussion. "System76 doesn't have operations outside the US, making what they offer less appealing when you consider having to buy a regional power adapter or paying extra taxes and duties on delivery."

Similarly, Tuxedo uses German pricing for its native market, and its marketing photography shows a German layout keyboard, points out Thornett.

He believes the need of the hour is suppliers that can cater to consumers wherever they reside. "Outside of the mainstream brands dabbling in offering the likes of Ubuntu as an OS option, we've not seen that level of global expansion yet."

Larabel agrees, pointing to the recently released HP Dev One laptop, built in collaboration with System76, and pre-loaded with the Pop!_OS Linux distribution. Not only is it a Linux laptop from a major vendor, Larabel believes the fact it's priced competitively against Windows laptops from tier-one vendors is a major advantage.

"That's been one of the challenges of Linux laptops from the smaller Linux-focused vendors," noted Larabel. "Due to their small scale [they] are often priced significantly higher than (Windows) laptops offered by the major [vendors] and limited in their hardware selection by their whitebox laptop suppliers like Clevo."

Hardware Isn’t the Barrier

In addition to price, Thornett thinks the availability of top-of-the-line hardware is only one factor in a purchasing decision. 

"While the growing range of more powerful options is exciting, I don't feel hardware has necessarily been the barrier to market growth," opined Thornett. "Dell's Project Sputnik and its XPS 13 series demonstrated that you could have both Linux and a stylish laptop that wasn't an utter embarrassment to flip open in your local coffee shop."

Thornett's confident enthusiasts and developers will be content to tinker and revel in the customization available with Linux and expect they will continue to be the core market for Linux-preinstalled devices. 

Tuxedo

He adds that there will be some exceptions, such as data science, where System76 shines with its sumptuous high-end PCs, while the release of the Steam Deck also points to gaming as a potential growth market for Linux-powered hardware.

The biggest challenge for Linux, as per Thornett, has always been supplying consumers with familiar software or alternative software that is comparable to popular proprietary software. He believes the more widely Linux options are available and offer a drop-in replacement for Windows, the more we'll see Linux's visibility grow. 

"Unfortunately, not all [people] understand the philosophy behind Linux or necessarily care or think about whether something is free or open source software," said Thornett. "Popular software has to work [on Linux] without issue [for Linux] to be truly mainstream."

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