Breaking the Laptop Barrier

by Don Marti

In a keynote speech given today at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, Martin Fink, Vice President of Linux for Hewlett-Packard, announced a laptop computer that the company is selling pre-loaded with SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional. The order form on HP's on-line store already lists Linux as an OS choice for the system.

Buying a laptop to run Linux without paying for an unused copy of Microsoft Windows long has been a point of pride for Linux fans, with some users even taking vendors to court to get a refund for the unwanted pre-installed OS.

Holding up a Linux laptop in its box, Fink said, "I do have to warn you that this product is not licensed to run Windows", a statement that drew applause from keynote audience members.

Although only one model now is offered, in an interview last week, Fink said that more models may become available, depending on how this one does. At the keynote speech, he demonstrated a Tablet PC running Linux, which is usable with handwriting recognition but is not yet a shipping product.

In choosing which laptop to ship first, Fink said, "We picked one which we thought was a reasonably good fit, with more pixels on screen." Linux versions are priced the same as those with Microsoft Windows XP Home installed and $50 less than systems equipped with the Professional version of the Microsoft product.

The nx5000 is a mid-size business notebook PC with a base weight of 5.75 pounds and a base price of $1,199. HP claims a full work day of battery life when two batteries are installed. Display choices are XGA (1024 x 768) or SXGA+ (1400 x 1050), for an additional $75. The video chipset is Intel Extreme Graphics2. The keyboard is comfortable, with good-sized Esc and special character keys for programmers, and the pointing device is a touch pad. Maximum RAM is 2GB. Available processors are Intel Celeron and Pentium M, and hard drive choices are 40GB or 60GB at 4,200 or 5,400RPM. Built-in 802.11a, b and g networking is available, and there's a standard 10/100 Ethernet and 56K modem. A MultiBay accommodates your choice of CD and/or DVD reader or burner, a floppy drive or second battery. There's an SD slot, optional Bluetooth, FireWire, and S-video out, all with drivers and support.

HP's market studies show that 93% of all companies use or plan to use Linux, Fink said. "The market momentum is shifting to Linux, largely at the expense of Solaris", he said last week. In the keynote, he added, "This is the year that Linux overtakes the Mac on the desktop, and maybe my laptop will help accelerate that." 5,000 server and 10,000 desktops and other devices inside HP are running Linux, he said.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) and open source largely are incompatible because of the DMCA, Fink said, and he wants to come up with an open standard way of "solving the DRM/open source paradox". Currently, there is no solution, he said. Fink also had strong words for IT executives thinking of creating a new open-source software license. "Stop. Please don't. Call me", he said. He said that he approves three to five open-source projects every week at HP, that the company deals with everything from enterprise IT to cameras and printers, and he has never had to approve a new license. "Let's stop creating new licenses", he said.

Would-be Linux laptop users have long faced a chicken-and-egg problem. Because there have been no preloaded major-vendor laptops since IBM briefly offered its ThinkPad T22 with Caldera's distribution in 2001, nobody has been able to buy them, so the vendors don't know how big the market is. Now HP is throwing a full-grown chicken at the problem, and what happens next is up to the sales figures. Last week, Fink said, "If you want more of this, you need to go buy one."

Meanwhile, other vendors at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo also showed off Linux laptops. Both LinuxCertified and Pogo Linux showed off AMD64-based laptops on the tradeshow floor.

Don Marti is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal.

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