Why You Should Only Buy Linux Pre-Installed on your Systems


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By Mackenzie Morgan
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Many Linux users are geeks, and vice versa, and geeks can build their own systems or at least install an OS, so why should we buy systems with Linux pre-installed? Why is it so important if the OS is free? Let’s talk about a little thing called “market share.”

You’ll see a lot of talk about market share on the Internet, but usually it confuses market share and installed base. See, geeks tend to care about installed base. We’ll argue with the people quoting 1% market share that it can’t be right because how can companies know whether we reinstalled the OS or not? And that’s just the point. Generally, they can’t. But what changes when we change our OS isn’t the market share; it’s the installed base. The market share is still based flatly on the number of units sold—the thing business people care about.

Why should we care about the difference? Well, it’s really hard to get a good handle on the installed base of just about anything. Mozilla can tell us how many installers for Firefox were downloaded, and I can tell you that the Firefox_Setup.exe on my flash drive was used to install on at least 5 random people’s computers, but then the people who downloaded and never got around to finishing the install or went back to Internet Exploder get in the way, and it’s a big mess. It’s not hard to count the number of units bought or downloaded (“shipped”), though. Number of units shipped is what business people use to determine whether they’re doing a good job or a lousy job, too. That’s where we come in.

Ever heard of “voting with your wallet”? The more of us buy our systems with Linux pre-installed, the more the market share percentages sway. What happens then? Then hardware manufacturers get more pressure put on them to play nice. Then ISPs get more pressure put on them to actually support Linux users. Then software developers (yes, game houses too) get more pressure put on them to port their programs. It might not be much pressure—yet—but the smart ones will see the writing on the wall. Already we’ve seen Dell pressured into selling machines with Ubuntu, and they, in turn, pressured Broadcom into releasing working drivers. It’s all fine and dandy for us to try to yell at various companies “please support us!!!”, but until there are signs in the market (you know, the one with money) that Windows’ share is shrinking, they can keep on ignoring us.

If you’re convinced that you need to do something about this market share issue with your next computer purchase, where do you actually find a hardware vendor offering Linux as an option? There is actually a handful of them. In the Ubuntu world, System76 is popular on the “support a small business” front. For those wanting a more mainstream brand, Dell, as mentioned above, is the way to go. Watch out though. Sometimes they put sales on some components on the Windows-equivalent systems and not on the Ubuntu ones. When this has been noticed before, they’ve promptly fixed it and applied the sales to the Ubuntu systems too, so just make sure you check so you can email them if they got it wrong again. I’m a repeat-customer of ZaReason, since they will ship Kubuntu, not just Ubuntu, and I like KDE. Really, they’ll ship just about any distro you request as long as the drivers are there. System76 and ZaReason tend to appeal more toward the quality-and-service-over-price buyer, so if budget is really your limiting factor, have a look at Sub300 (oddly with a URL of Sub500, go figure). It’s Linspire, but you were going to reinstall over Windows anyway, right? At least you can count into the market share game and try to influence the industry.

What do you think? If every system running a Linux distro had been purchased that way, and if no Linux users were using User Agent Switcher to masquerade as Windows and avoid silly webpage blocks, what sort of statistics would we see about operating systems? If I missed it, who is your favourite vendor for hardware running a Free Software OS?







46 Responses to Why You Should Only Buy Linux Pre-Installed on your Systems

  1. My favorite vendor is Apple, actually – I need laptops and only Sony has come within a few miles of their powerful, attractive, durable hardware (but Sony charges twice as much).

    It would be nice to get it pre-installed, but the modern install process is so easy that it's not really a concern when I'm buying.

  2. "Then ISPs get more pressure put on them to actually support Linux users."
    that's not really possible. maybe for a few major distros. But I can't imagine staff trained to administer those countless builds and flavors. And there is a huge difference between configuring network on gentoo, debian and ubuntu.

  3. "Then ISPs get more pressure put on them to actually support Linux users."
    that's not really possible. maybe for a few major distros. But I can't imagine staff trained to administer those countless builds and flavors. And there is a huge difference between configuring network on gentoo, debian and ubuntu.

  4. Obviously, you're just accounting for personal computer users here, but let's not forget that in "big business" technology, most machines run a Linux-based OS. My father works with companies who design and create wafers, chips, and all of our other beloved innards, and the machines he works on run… Linux.

    I suppose that's actually more ironic, since the Linux-based machines tend to make products which are then defiled with Windows or Mac OS

    • Enterprise Linux is vastly different from consumer Linux. Distributions like RHEL have much longer, stable release cycles, and have reliable technical support.

      Some even skip it altogether and opt for a more robust, scalable system, such as Solaris.

    • Enterprise Linux is vastly different from consumer Linux. Distributions like RHEL have much longer, stable release cycles, and have reliable technical support.

      Some even skip it altogether and opt for a more robust, scalable system, such as Solaris.

        • The LTS lifecycle is vastly shorter compared to more enterprise-oriented systems (3-5 years versus 10-12 years). Plus, distros like Ubuntu tend to break things in between releases, which is a big no-no for an environment that demands stability.

      • It's true that the Linux platform I mentioned is completely different from the PC platform, which is why, though I was thinking aloud, I pointedly mentioned that I was aware that the blogger was considering only the home versions.

  5. 1. This entire article is as far from sexy as you can possibly get.
    2. Linux will NEVER have a high enough market share to get developers to support it with their software.
    3. Going back to #2…if you don't see this very obvious fact, then you should know that being delusional is NOT considered sexy.

    • do you know how may high end co inc and gov run on Linux?? even google uses open source software for its servers man people use Linux on a daily basis and never know and all the time the are making jest at Linux users and the os i hope you never need a pace maker, flight, bank account or even the Internet I would hate for you to have to use Linux against your will :)

  6. A great article Mackenzie! The problem I think with linux is that a majority of companies won't make software for it, because very few people buy software for linux.There is just no money in it.

    Yes, there is a lot of freeware available, but when you find a bug in an obscure package that you find useful, your stuck, unless you know programming or a programmer.

    Another part of that equation is addressed by Stano.

    Therefore, I have my doubts that linux will ever dominate the desktop market share, or even garner enough of it to have any leverage.

    • "Yes, there is a lot of freeware available, but when you find a bug in an obscure package that you find useful, your stuck, unless you know programming or a programmer."This is silly (IMHO).You're far less stuck than you are in the same situation with proprietary software, because it's always a good bet that there will be an online forum for supporting any given piece of free software (if it's popular, there will be a forum or a mailing list, if it's obscure, then it's probably still in development, and you just email the author or the development team).It's with proprietary software that you get stuck. Because, unless you're a complete idiot, their tech support is usually worthless, and there is frequently NOTHING ELSE to turn to, because the closed model makes it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a user support community around it.Also, if it _is_ a bug, you can bet that it will get quick attention, and the update that fixes it is not going to cost you anything — whereas with proprietary software, you may be expected to pay a subscription fee or buy an upgrade AND you'll have to wait for their release cycle, which may be anywhere from 6 mo to 3 years.The only advantage you get with proprietary software is — with really good vendors anyway — they probably did more testing on more different kinds of hardware before you ever saw the product. Therefore, it's somewhat less likely that it will fail out of the box (but you can get the same security with free software by sticking to software from distribution-supported packages and name-brand or highly-standardized hardware).

  7. Yeah, I dunno. I am using Google Analytics for a website that gives you numbers on the browsers/systems/etc.. that view your site and Linux doesn't even register after thousands of unique unique users. 71% Windows, Mac 17%, IPhone 4.6%, Android 2.8%. Linux doesn't even register. I don't give a flip who uses the site or which operating system is better, but according to Google Analytics, Linux as a system is non-existent.

    • I'm unsure about Google's detection code. I have a pretty popular Ubuntu blog hosted on Blogger (owned by Google), and the stats show like 1% Linux and 60% "other Unix." I really doubt my readership is 60% AIX & IRIX.

    • I'm unsure about Google's detection code. I have a pretty popular Ubuntu blog hosted on Blogger (owned by Google), and the stats show like 1% Linux and 60% "other Unix." I really doubt my readership is 60% AIX & IRIX.

  8. Does Dell still sell notebooks with Ubuntu? I shopped an XPS last year becide deciding to buy the Windows version and installing Ubuntu myself, but taking a look just now, I don't even see the option.

  9. The problem with Linux is that things get updated, changed, and broken so rapidly , and there are so many variations, that it just doesn't make financial sense for a company to spend that much time making software work for less than 1 percent of the market.

    With hundreds of different distributions out there, that's just a hundred more chances for things to go wrong. At least there is only one distribution of Windows, and one distribution of OS X to support.

    This is why Linux will never succeed in the consumer front.

  10. The fact of the matter are these:

    1) Linux needs to boil down to no more than 20 distros. Less distros means more people working on them.

    2) Other hardware manufacturers (HP, Sony, Toshiba, etc etc etc) need to do as Dell and pick a Linux distro to begin supporting.

    3) People need to stop fearing the penguin. Tux and his friends will watch over you.

  11. why would i spend more to support linux when the whole idea of open source is to build yourself and save money, they progress as a company with or without money.

    • Well, most likely you wouldn't be spending more, if the whole business model was about omitting the Windows license fee and pre-installing Linux for no extra cost, which is actually what some of the smaller firms here in Finland do. As far as I know, it's not even such an effort to install most distributions these days, that doing it for free would screw up their businesses. I'm having hard time figuring out your reference to Linux as a company, though…

  12. why would i spend more to support linux when the whole idea of open source is to build yourself and save money, they progress as a company with or without money.

  13. Thanks a lot !! This article actually reminded me of the difference between "Market Share" and "Installed Base". That's an important distinction.

    I sincerely believe that if there was a way to actually capture the installed Linux Base, it would be much higher than the "about 1% only" statistics currently available.

  14. Thanks a lot !! This article actually reminded me of the difference between "Market Share" and "Installed Base". That's an important distinction.

    I sincerely believe that if there was a way to actually capture the installed Linux Base, it would be much higher than the "about 1% only" statistics currently available.

  15. Thanks a lot !! This article actually reminded me of the difference between "Market Share" and "Installed Base". That's an important distinction.

    I sincerely believe that if there was a way to actually capture the installed Linux Base, it would be much higher than the "about 1% only" statistics currently available.

  16. We are paying too much of money for Windows product, in our office.
    The problem is client expects the sites to run smooth in Windows…If Linux is the ONLY OS in the world, world will be good.

    • Perhaps if there was only one Linux distribution, and it had a reliable update cycle. A world consisting only of fragmentation of countless Linux distributions would be chaotic.

      Companies pay money for Windows because Windows is proven to be a stable, reliable, and widely used platform. There's no denying it, that's just the fact.

  17. Mackenzie…

    Linux presents a problem with having "vote with your wallet" applied to it.

    You can't.

    Let's say you're going to go buy a computer, and your choices are Mac or Windows PC. You opt for PC, which means you made two choices:

    1: You chose to put money in Microsoft's bank account.

    2: You chose NOT to put money in Apple's bank account.

    That makes it a gain for MS and a loss for apple. You voted with your wallet and both companies saw the effects of it.

    The other scenario is that you went to buy a PC from Dell, pre-loaded with Ubuntu. You get the same discounts as if you had purchased it with Windows. Here's where it gets fun…

    You chose not to give your money to Apple OR Microsoft. You also STOLE money from Dell. You did this by insisting on getting your computer with the same discounts as someone who bought a PC with Windows. Many of the discounts from Dell and other big box PC sellers are the result of MS subsidies. If you buy a PC from Dell and insist on the same discounts as a PC with Windows, you are forcing Dell to take a loss, because they don't get the subsidy on the computer you bought.

    On top of that, MS doesn't care that you didn't buy it with Windows pre-loaded.

    Let me say that again: MS DOESN'T CARE.

    Why? Because market trends tell them that enough of the Linux "installed base" will still need Windows, and will therefore go buy it at retail. When they buy Windows at retail, they pay more and MS makes a better margin because subsidy payments aren't coming out of that sale.

    It creates additional losses for Dell because they have to provide support (primarily in the form of drivers) for an operating system that is already causing them to lose profit.

    By buying a Linux-installed PC from Dell, 'voting with your wallet' as you say, all you are accomplishing at this point is to show Dell that you hate them.

    *No, I am not an employee or spokesperson for Dell

    **I work in IT

    ***Yes, I use linux – I have Ubuntu installed on 2 computers in my home.

  18. It is unfortunate that many technical commentators have little experience of Linux apart from what they might see ready installed on some netbooks – then it is often a little known Linux OS that doesn't have the clout of an OS like Ubuntu,Mint or, perhaps, Fedora.

    • Actually, most of those "little known" distros are based on Debian/Ubuntu. Besides, since Mint is based on Ubuntu (forked off in 2006), you didn't help your point with that one. Then again, what do I know, I'm using Arch (x86_64), so I'm obviously different and strange by default.

  19. It would certainly be nice to actually have a selection. All the vendors sell the same products except, and this is the real biggie, that they are branded differently. ooh, aah, wow

    Perhaps when the customer has a choice in hardware (processor, memory, hd, os) we may see lots of diversity.

    Until then it's an up-mountain battle.

  20. I am currently using Ubuntu Linux and I love it.  I wish I could say that have reached "geek" status, but sadly I have not.  Linux has been very good for me as a non-geek.  At first it does take some getting used to, but it remains free from viruses and other "things' that could destroy the computer.  My 10 year old also loves it and can easily navigate around the system.  As for it coming pre-installed on computers, im all for it.