Which Major PC Vendor Will Sell Desktop Linux First?

Doc's newsletter predictions for the new year include the “L-word” on the “D-word” and some other big moves from big companies.

This is a sample issue of Doc's e-mail newsletter, SuitWatch. You can subscribe here or browse the archives.

Freedom seeks its own level.

The old year closed, as it so often does, with economic prognostications. Will next year be better or worse? Will stocks stay in the tank? Will the real estate bubble burst? Will consumer confidence rise?

When it came to Linux, of course, there was the perennial LOTD—Linux on the Desktop—question, for which the answer is the equally perennial “maybe”.

Me, I'm mostly wondering what happens when business finishes waking up to the abundance of highly useful free stuff in the world. There are signs it's happening.

For example, here's Christopher Koch, in CIO Magazine:

A for-profit software company cannot compete with the economics of open source—free is as cheap as it gets. Nor, it turns out, can it compete with open source's quality testing process. Though the pace of open-source development can be languid and tends to create products less functionally rich than their proprietary counterparts, the stuff gets tested so often and so brutally by so many different people that most open-source programs are judged to be more stable and reliable. In a commodity market, low cost and reliability count more than bells and whistles.

That's where we connect the dots between Linux' domination of the server business (a milestone the Butler Group expects to pass, languidly, in 2009) and the same eventuality with desktops.

PCs can't be commodities if they're not running commodity OSes. Nearly all of them aren't, and that's THE problem with the PC marketplace right now. Commodity customers aren't seeing commodity alternatives to Windows. Not in stores, anyway. Not yet.

But with the price of PC hardware melting toward nothing, the (growing!) cost of Windows is becoming an increasingly exposed and unsustainable irony. At some point low cost and reliability will win the market. That's when LOTD breaks through the dam.

That dam consists almost entirely of the big international PC hardware companies' collective unwillingness to market Linux desktops and laptops in a serious way.

But, again, there are signs.

The Bigs won't risk making their first move right under Microsoft's nose here in the U.S. Instead they'll answer demand in those parts of the world where technology is no less important, but there's far less money to go around.

Like India, for example.

On Wednesday, India's Financial Express reported that Hewlett-Packard is coming out with a Compaq Presario home PC—with monitor, speakers and the rest of the usual works—for 30,990 rupees, or about $645. It features a 1.5 GHz AMD Athlon cpu, and Red Hat Linux. The Intel-based Windows XP alternative is 40,000 rupees, or about $833. Local “assemblers” are putting together other bundles for as little as 24,000 rupees, or about $500. <http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=24958>

This comes at a time when Hewlett-Packard is running thick multi-page ads in magazines describing how HP and Linux have done wonders for the likes of Dreamworks and Amazon on the server side—while also running ads for the Compaq Tablet PC that chant “HP recommends Microsoft Windows XP Professional for Mobile Computing” on every page. Co-op advertising money will buy impressions, but it won't make bells and whistles outsell low cost and reliability—especially for customers that desperately crave the latter. At some point those sales go over a line, and the dam bursts.

So... When will it happen here in the U.S.? Is 2003 the year we see big-name hardware companies selling Linux as aggressively as they sell Windows—by which I mean Linux PCs show up in stores and on the front pages of Web sites?

Paul Saffo famously said we overestimate in the short term and underestimate in the long. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say the long term is mostly behind us. (How many years have we been waiting for LOTD to take off?) Somebody is going to break the ice this year. My own instinct says it'll be IBM, mostly because there must be serious demand for LOTD (as well as improvised solutions with it) inside the company. You can't have that many engineers walking around with Linuxified ThinkPads and not get around to selling them at some point.

I'm betting Dell will be next. Then Gateway. Then HP. Yes, I'm basing this on admittedly scant evidence, but you can help in that department. Feel free to feed me some real facts if you have them. (I'm doc@ssc.com)

As for other predictions, here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Members of Unbreakable Linux will continue not using that expression to describe what they do with the OS.

  • Members of United Linux will be united in not using the adjectival first name when casually describing their Linux offerings.

  • Approximately 100% of positive publicity statistics about Microsoft advantages over Linux will be the result of research bought by Microsoft.

  • Red Hat will jump to the front of the LOTD bandwagon, once it starts rolling.

  • Embedded Linux will be driven in a huge way by Sony and Matshushita, which recently announced the intent to co-develop a standard form of embedded Linux for consumer electronics (think of it as an XBox payback)

In other words, this is the year to bet on the tortoise that looks like a penguin.

But enough of my predictions. What about yours? Send them along. If they make good sense, I'll share them with the rest of us here.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

garymax's picture

One thing we are forgetting here: Linux doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough at this point.

The reason? Microsoft!

Wait a little while and enough people will get tired of paying more and more for their software. And the increased prices and onerous licensing terms will cause many to seek alternatives--namely Linux.

Linux is patiently being positioned to "be there" when the huddled masses have finally had their fill of Microsoft and their monopolistic practices. And when they do, Linux will be there--good enough to use but getting better all of the time.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

IBM is deploying LOTD in India:

http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=24621 .

So is LG Electronics:


As someone here already mentioned, Dell is already in the LOTD business, and Sun Microsystems has announced plans to deploy Linux-based workstations. It looks like Hewlett-Packard/Compaq is also now selling LOTD.

Are there any vendors that aren't? :-)

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I am surprised/disappointed that there was no mention of this... Microtel Already does, through Wall-Mart. For months they have been selling like hot cakes, far more than they expected. The distribution is Lindows. Okay, it's not a major manufacturer, but who cares since they are starting to sell like one.


Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

Actually, Microtel does Lindows, Mandrake, and Lycoris.


Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

One of the tougher calls is to move away from a Microsoft desktop with Internet Explorer and try using a Mozilla-based browser instead. I seem to recall IE being called a "virus" and I think that's right -- thanks to Microsoft "embracing and extending" standards, we're stuck with vendor partner portals and a web-based CRM that won't work with non-IE browsers.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

LOTD wont happen until people stop waiting for it and just do it. OpenOffice just needs 1 year till its usable by anyone, if it continues to improve as fast this year as it did in 2002. I have had Linux on my desktop for a year and now others in my department are starting to do the same.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

LOTD will not happen until the ability to easily install and run business software which was written to run under Windows is fully integrated, or until the ability to easily port existing Windows apps to Linux is developed and widely distributed.

The reasons behind this statement are listed in a comment which I posted to the Extremetech forums as a comment on their review of Lindows. The comment can be found here:



Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I think the LOTD will come as all Linux has come, slowly and gradually, and over many years filling one niche market at a time. LOTD might be good for some people, but many will complain. With each new release more people will be able to use it and slowly LOTD will grow. Just by offering LOTD, does not mean people try it. So my prediction is LOTD will continue to grow slowly as it has in the past. However the article is right with quality and price of open source, Linux is looking to become a huge player in the next decade or sow.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

None of them... the ones to do linux desktops first are the guys like me who are just sick of using the other guys o.s. We build our own boxes..download and burn our own install cds, and endure the intense learnign curve to excape drm,fud, and a price that is just sick and wrong.Am i an ubergeek? Hardly.Am i in the IT sector? Nope! I installed mdk9.0 easily in under 45 minutes. configured even for adsl. It does everythin a non geek infaniac needs. I.E. browse,email,irc and documents..and btw..LyX absolutely Rocks for knocking out fast docs... But seriously.. can you imagine the tech support at Dell when you average win user calls about not being able to find his C: drive on his new linux inspirion? I see linux as a tech support except for adopters who know what they are in for and are willing to read. Even using Mandrake the learning curve is a bit steep..but non the less.. we soldier on. :)

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I aggree with most of your post, howver, Im not sure about the price being "sick and wrong".

Windows XP Home is cheaper than some versions of SuSE Linux (

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

You're getting a lot more when you buy the Linux distribution though, and especially when talking about SuSE. That Windows XP CD will only give you the OS and the few programs (Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, a few card games and whatnot) they've tied into it. You still need to buy Microsoft Office or other applications if you want to do anything more productive than surfing the web or playing solitaire.

HP/Compaq Linux range on the desktop

Anonymous's picture

According to:


HP/Compaq already certifies and sells a range of PCs running Linux (Mandrake, Red Hat, SuSE, TurboLinux). For instance, you can currently get a

Avoid brand name PCs for linux

mvaar's picture

Even if it costs a little extra for white-box manufacturer products, encourage them so eventually they grow volumes.

I'd never buy a PC from ibm, dell or hp again, unless I wanted a windows pc - do you ? Try penguin computing.

I tire of seeing idiots on these boards buying ipaqs and other stuff ( like xboxes etc) and boasting on how they ran linux on them ! WTF don't they encourage the zaurus ? they are only encouraging wintel ( as if it needed it any more).

if hpaq or casio or anyone is ashamed to sell linux-based devices, shouldn't we be ashamed to buy from them ?

I'd rather buy from walmart. My last PC was a white-box - that way I also helped the local economy !

Tell all your friends that - help your local economy.


Anonymous's picture

Heres an idea, lets see Penguin computing and others quit over charging for pre installed linux systems. Overcome this hurdle and maybe they would sell something. It makes me sick how much these guys are robbing people on under powered crap boxes...

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I would be happy if most would include LOTD as an option this year.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

LOTD is something I am following with keen interest, I wrote about it here on my site back in September 2001. In it I suggested that 18 months on from there we would be ready to get into the corporate desktop market in a useful way. That gives me another 4-5 months before I have to start considering some hat eating ;)

Having tried Red Hat 8.0 when it first came out, I've been using it exclusively as my own desktop at work, to great effect. It might not appeal to the hacker side of me as much as Debian does, but for a It Just Works[tm] desktop in an office, it's all but perfect. RH are just going into the beta release stage for their next release (presumably 8.1) and it seems to be getting better. Throw in StarOffice (or OpenOffice if you're really cheap ;) and you have something that's pretty damn useful.

I do think that this is the year that we will see some big movement for LOTD, the pieces aren't falling into place, they growing into the place, line of code by line of code.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

Dell already offers Red Hat on it's Precision line of high end workstation PC's, so the rest can't be too far behind. I can tell you from personal experience that RH 7.3 installs and runs fine on the Latitude C610 and C640 series machines.




Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Doc's picture

It's true that Dell allows you to configure a laptop (or pretty much any cpu with Linux . But marketing desktop Linux in an aggressive way is another matter. Still not there yet.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I agree. But selling and marketing are different and your question was who will sell desktop Linux first. Just trying to pitch in my two cents.


Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

Hello all:

As a linux vendor (open-pc.com), I sell linux on the desktop and doing quite well, thank you. We sell Windows as well (some of our clients still demands Windows as clients with linux on the backend--the reality is that right now, all our clients are running a mix environment) but for us, linux on the front and back comes first.

Our sales are increasing steadily and that is a good thing since it gives us the opportunity to serves our customer well. Who buys our linux box?

Bio tech, informatics, softwares companies, students of various stripes, home users etc.

Who buys our Window box?

Law and accounting firms.

For us, we let the actual sales do the talking.


Anonymous's picture

It's vendors like you that are trying to rip people off with ridiculous prices on your pre-configured Linux boxes. I swear its highway robbery. I can get a better system at Walmart for half the price, and install GNU/Linux myseld instead of relying on greedy MS like companies like yours. NO THANKS!

Shop around yourself at what they offer for $1659.00!!!!!!

IntelP4 1.5GHZ

10GB hard drive

256MB Ram,

CD-ROM drive


10/100MB network card

What a joke.....

It's about the software

Anonymous's picture

My experiences with OpenOffice tell me this ain't the year for LOTD. It's just not good enough.

Perhaps when Chandler (Mitch Kapor's OSAF PIM product) comes out - and a spruced up Gimp and OpenOffice 27.9 - or whatever it takes to turn it into 'happening' software (instead of pathetic, Unix brain me-too we wish we were Microsoft envy software.)

Despite the claim of cheap hardware, it's really about the software and until there's LOTS of compelling LOTD software , all runing on the same GUI - it's all "pie-in-the-sky". And you know when you get that pie - right?

When you die.

Re: It's about the software

wjlroe's picture

Yes. Someone's mentioned Chandler which we are all waiting for.

But...all of the software you mentioned are semi- or completely- cross-platform. You can use OO, Gimp and Chandler on any computing platform around today. So all of those won't do anything for Linux per se, but it will boost open source, and show how powerful it really is. Then, it will boost open source OSs (not necessarily Linux), all of them. Then things will start to get interesting.

Until then, I'm quite happy to be using my quality open source software, hugely better than their closed source competitors. I am proud to be a member of a rapidly expanding open source community.

Linux is ready to take the desktop as it is. No question. The push will be more and more crap from M$ - in computing it's not the pull that matters, but the push. M$ are doing better than anyone at marketing Linux and pushing everyone towards it.

Keep digging M$!

Re: It's about the software

Anonymous's picture

I personally hope it does *Eventually* take off on the desktop,

but the first place it has to tackle is in corporate sector.

Think about it?

More people use computers in their workspace than at home, once they are used to using Linux at work and they understand it a bit more, they will be more used to the name and maybe *only* maybe install it at home.

But how many people at home are still using their old Win98 systems that they bought years ago? and they won't change for a while and *will* hate change.

Secondly *IMHO*, Linux will NEVER take off on the desktop unless we can run windose apps perfectly, as so many people have apps they are not ported or now even created in Linux, that they will not change.

Ok its starting to get better, but slowly.

Me I run only opensource (at home and work) and happy with it, so I'm not saying this because I need to run my windows apps.

And secondly Manufacturers need to support more hardware, as the average Windows home user still expects and will always expect to walk into a tore and puy something and expect it to run sraight away, otherwise they want their money back.

Most of the home users of windows, don't even know there are alternative, as all htey know is windows and nothing else, they don;t wont to learn, they expect it to be like a microwave, plug it in a go.....

Once day we may get on hte desktop, but it will *NEVER* beat MS and we will only be a second alternative, like MAC.

But I'll be overjoyed when that happens, personally I don't want Linux to be another Windows or truthully a nother OS for the thick as sh*t, I don't won't to learn hone user..


Re: It's about the software

Anonymous's picture

I agree. Only a 100 % compatibility with all Microsoftware, an easy installation, no do this and then do that, just click and run, an absolutely unified Linux, will convert the masses, the average windows user to Linux. I tried every distribution of Mandrake since 7.1 and I am still using Windows. I find no worthy competitor for ACSSee, I am still using Photoimpact 4.2, Office 97, Encarta99, some Dutch multimedia productions. Frankly, I don't fancy the idea of learning to use again other programs, no matter how similar they might be in use. I bought the Mandrake 8.2 and 9.0 DVD edition and Windows XP Home Edition. Mandrake is the best for my needs and experience but I still prefer Windows. I don't hate Microsoft nor do I worship them. But until Linux gets better and better, I don't think there will be a LOTH in the near future for the masses, activation or not.

Re: It's about the software

Anonymous's picture

Try GTK See, Photogenics, the Gimp, OpenOffice. If your not willing to learn then you can't change there is a learning curve for Linux once you get into it you'll find it is a much more powerful OS. I could say the same thing about Windows I want virtual desktops, and a choice in window managers. I want KDE for my powerful workstations and Fluxbox for lowend systems. I want my text documents to be freely exchanged with the world not just other Windows users. Why won't Outlook express spell check a document without Word installed on XP I may as well use regular Outlook if I have to spend $400 dollars for an email spellchecker. Linux might not be the OS for you but I have been using it for a desktop OS since 1995 serves my purpose just fine.

Re: It's about the software

Anonymous's picture

I agree....and I don't agree, Linux still needs work but mainly with installation of hardware/software. Once those issues are hashed out and hardware vendors realize the importance of LOTD, things will ramp up pretty quickly. remember when installing Linux was a daunting task not for the faint-of-heart.

now "allmost" anybody can install linux with minimal difficulty.

the excellerated development of Linux is it's ace-in-the-hole. complaints like yours/mine and the abundance of articles complaining about Linux shortcomings are a benefit to Linux, Linux Developers take them personally and work thier a$$e$ off to rectify those issues.

I believe that when push comes to shove before we know it Linux will be ready.


Anonymous's picture

And yes Walmart will become a "Major Vendor".

The question is who will be the next "Major Vendor".


Anonymous's picture

In Germany it happened, not with them though.

We have ALDI here, being the company selling the most PCs or at least second. They started to sell PCs like 3 years ago.

Interestingly the cheap Walmart PC didn't hit the local market here yet... but then Walmart ain't cheap here.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

geoff_lane's picture

I would keep an eye on the noname box assemblers in China. They are already running on tiny margins and saving $80 or so per box would be very attractive. All that is needed is a well packaged distro containing all the necessary apps fronted by a simple desktop.

I also still believe that cheap handheld "PCs" to be sold like calculators at less than $100 will be the next big thing. All that is needed is for one OEM to start producing one and the floodgates will open. I thought that it would happen this xmas; perhaps in 12 months time...

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I also still believe that cheap handheld "PCs" to be sold like calculators at less than $100 will be the next big thing. All that is needed is for one OEM to start producing one and the floodgates will open

I'm starting to believe so too. I'm a perenially cheap guy, and I just went out and bought my first Palm (the $99USD Zire). I'm almost regretting that decision after hearing that Dell will be making Pocket PC devices, and selling them for approximately $350USD, rather than the 600 or 700 that other vendors are selling them for.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

I am also waiting for Linux-powered Ogg Vorbis reproducers that would be cheapper (an more flexibles) than the actual MP3 reproducers. (At least, to found they anywere :-)

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

wjlroe's picture

Yeah. People keep making claims like this. It has to be remembered that the Zaurus (really nice Linux PDA) hasn't really made any impact (ie on Sharp are keen to make Linux-based PDAs) and this is a great shame. Even if they did however, it wouldn't 'open the floodgates'. The PDA market is harder to crack than the server or even the desktop market. Linux has all but won the dekstop user over.

It's simply a matter of raising the profile - no really, the people who don't run Linux on the whole, just haven't heard of it. And if they have, they've never seen it in action.

Think. If I was wondering which OS I should run on my PC, I would pop along to PCWorld (remember, we're talking non-computer-experts here) and ask to see a demonstration of each operating system.

PCWorld would then show me Windows XP, possibly 2000, then maybe Mac (I dunno if they sell them). It will be a really long time before PCWorld start to gamble their business on Linux and other OSs.

Most people new to computers would never think of removing software and installing alternatives. They think in terms of buying a PC with software - why should I then remove a part of the product I've bought in order to use something else. If that's what is advised, why didn't PCWorld sell me my PC with Linux installed?

The most compelling reason for switching to the Mac is the Hardware/Software combination - it's a strong incentive, just think, both the hardware AND the software are developed by the same people (which it's not, but anyway), it must be good!

There isn't such a compelling reason why someone should ditch Windows in favour of Linux for any task. Yeah there are good reasons, but not 'Linux and your PC were build to work with each other'. Different ballpark.

Oooh err. Bit of a rambling comment really. I've just finished work for the week, so I'm loosing focus.

Just for the record (no missunderstandings) I would never use Microsoft hardware or software. I am a very satisfied user of Gentoo Linux and am dipping my liddle tows in *BSDs. Open source forever! ...or something

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

synthetoonz's picture

The Zaurus is nifty and cool, but wimpy and lame with marketing beats nifty and cool all the time.

I went through the Sharp web site to locate a Zaurus distributor and after further investigation, none of the distributors near me stock it locally. A few of the stores only carry it on the web site. Some of them don't even have the Zaurus on the web site, so why Sharp thinks they're distributors is beyond me.

It seems the only way to find a Zaurus around here (South Florida) is to know what it is and search specifically for it. Nobody looking for a PDA in general is ever going to find one by accident. If Sharp thinks their only market is for geeks who like Linux then that's fine. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be a serious effort at marketing the Zaurus.

The history of computing is littered with superior that never caught on, because of lack of coherent, competent marketing.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

wjlroe's picture

Absolutely right. Where I am, through Dabs (a large UK company) sells them so there's no problem in the UK. But if you wanted to see one in action and try it out, you'd have to go to your local LUG (which is how I tried one out).

I think Sharp were just dipping their toes in to see if it burned. They didn't want to gamble a large marketing effort on a new product. They were being careful. Hopefully now that they've had quite a few sales, they'll start to raise the profile of the Zaurus and push it towards distributers.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

Anonymous's picture

The problem with the Zaurus is that it's not a phone. Right now I'm toting a Kyocera QCP 6035, which is an 8meg PalmOS device *and* a phone.

My next upgrade will almost certainly be a Handspring Treo 300, which is also a PalmoS device. I would infinately prefer a Zaurus, and I can get a wireless broadband modem from Sprint to plug into it, but that would still mean I've got to carry it as well as a phone.

I don't want to carry two devices if I can avoid it. I used to carry a pager and a phone and a PDA, then the pager functionality got merged into the phone and I was able to dump the pager, then the PDA functionality got merged into the phone and I dumped the PDA. Now I carry one device where I used to need 3, and I'm not about to go backwards.

The phone manufacturers are winning the battle in the PDA space for this very reason. I don't see why anyone would manufacture any PDA that doesn't have a phone built into it.

Re: Which major PC vendor will sell desktop Linux first?

wjlroe's picture

Because holding a brick to your face is really stupid. The PDA/Phones are ridiculous, they may be good PDAs, but they are useless as phones. This is because a phone should be small and light (although not too small) so you can talk into it without looking like a clown.
The PDA/phones aren't selling well because no one will use them as phones, and they are more expensive than better PDAs.
You want a PDA/Phone/toaster/lawn mower to look _really_ stupid ;)