A Continuing Work in Progress: The State of Linux 2006

Linux On The Desktop

Unfortunately, Linux on the desktop still lacks universal, enthusiastic support from key industry giants. Many of these movers and shakers continue to cite various valid sticking points that prevent them from supporting Linux more broadly. Today, these issues still include a lack of standardized driver support, non-existent core convergence, added complexity inherent in multiple-choice offerings, and low consumer demand. In terms of desktop PCs sold with Linux pre-installed, the biggest market remains with those redistribution/redeployment systems integrators who specialize in reissuing Windows boxes as born-again Linux machines.

Dell continues to offer its Custom Factory Integration (CFI) support for customers who prefer non-Windows installations at the factory, ready-made for delivery, but the customer is required to provide all necessary installation media. In March 2006, chairman Michael Dell was quoted in support of the Linux community, noting the kinds of opportunities that Linux presents to the PC business. He had this to say about its place in the desktop market: "If the Linux desktops could converge at their cores, such a common platform would make it easier to support. Or, if there were a leading or highly preferred version that a majority of users would want, we'd preload it." Other top-tier manufacturers have voiced similar concerns when pressed about offering retail Linux packages for sale.

Figure 2: A montage of popular, well-known Linux distribution icons

To date, Dell offers Linux pre-installed on select open source desktop models, like the n Series Dimension and OptiPlex desktop computers, and its Precision Workstation product lines. Additionally, these units ship with FreeDOS installed for customers not interested in dealing with Microsoft licensing schemes. FreeDOS is a non-Microsoft DOS-like environment for bootstrapping a system into a semi-usable state, usually in preparation for installation of Linux or some other operating system. In keeping with current market trends, these desktop units are affordably priced for three primary categories: entry-level, business-class, and enterprise desktop computing.

On the low end, OEM vendor Great Quality currently offers budget-line desktop models on the retail market (through Fry's Electronics). These units run Linspire (formerly Lindows), a distribution emphasizing ease-of-use that is designed to appeal to casual desktop users. Such desktop computers range in cost from $100 to $200 for a complete system, sans monitor. As with most vendors operating on razor thin margins in the desktop arena, few can afford to take chances on the yet-to-be-proven viability of Linux for high-volume retail. Nevertheless, by the end of 2005, Linspire earned support from over 350 Tier 3 manufacturers, who must compete against larger vendors for a much smaller piece of the action. This sheds positive light on Linux as a viable desktop OS.

Ed Tittel is a long-time IT writer, researcher and consultant, and occasional contributor to Tom’s Hardware. A Windows Insider MVP since 2018, he likes to cover OS-related driver, troubleshooting, and security topics.