Vendors and Drivers and Hardware, Oh My...

by Shawn Powers

In my video last week, I really hammered on Hewlett Packard. It's important to realize, however, that they are merely the vendor that happened to irk me at just the right time. My video could easily have been pointed at any number of tier one computer hardware vendors, and it would have been just as heartfelt. In fact, I'm rather fond of HP, and so addressed my video to them in the hopes they would listen.

I have a phone meeting with them Monday [Sometime soon, meeting rescheduled], so I suppose we'll see what happens.

I do want to clarify a bit though, because in the emotional outcry, some of the keys to my frustration may have been unclear.

  1. Drivers for Linux. HP tends to be a "Linux Friendly" vendor. I realize that. Heck, when I buy HP servers, they have the option to install Linux using their custom installation CDs. I really appreciate that, and therein began my fondness for HP.
  2. "Drivers" Doesn't Mean Open. I wouldn't have wasted my breath 5 years ago with a message to vendors. Admittedly, times are slowly changing. I want it to be clear that while I do appreciate their efforts: Half supported chipsets, closed source kernel modules, and undocumented hardware really isn't what we were asking for. (Or if it was, we weren't specific enough) Wireless adapters are a prime example of this. Atheros cards are a pain in the butt, and while we can get them to work -- it's only because we are willing to work really hard to do so. I'm far from alone in this frustration.
  3. Who's In Charge? I'm embarrassed for vendors when they act like puppets on strings for Microsoft. Blurbs like "HP Recommends Windows Vista Business" on hardware that is also available with Linux is exactly the same thing as saying, "HP Recommends You Don't Use Linux." And why wouldn't the average buyer listen to them? I mean, after all, they're the hardware vendor. They recommended Vista, so it must be the better choice. I'm pretty sure Microsoft doesn't need the help getting market share. HP is just perpetuating the myth that Windows is better. That is what bothers me about the sticker.
  4. If You Don't Like It, Don't Flaunt It.. The HP-2133 is an obvious answer to the ASUS EeePC. Asus garnered its fame due to size, cost, and Linux. HP used "Linux" in their advertising to make it more clearly their "Eee Killer" -- but their followup makes it pretty clear that Linux was just a marketing scheme.

    ASUS versus HP, a fictional set of press releases I made up to make my point:

    ASUS: We have a small, affordable computer running Linux. We'll give you Windows drivers if you like, but realize you'll have to spend money buying Windows. We chose Linux. (Yes, they later offered pre-installed Windows, I realize that, but it was very clear Linux was NOT the second class citizen)

    HP: Hey wait! WE have a tiny Linux laptop too! No, really, we do! Ours is bigger and better, and only slightly more expensive! (But really, we don't recommend you buy the Linux version, we recommend you buy the computer with Windows Vista Business. It's more expensive, and you will have to purchase even more hardware to fully benefit from Vista, but it's what we recommend. Really. Seriously. See, we put it on the sticker.)

I'm not saying that ASUS is the perfect vendor either. If you've tried to get wireless networking to work on the EeePC, you'll quickly find that the Atheros chipset is frustrating. (See my point #2 from earlier) I sure do like the way they introduced the EeePC though. And so did LOTS of other people, both the Linux geek and the Average Joe alike.

Will my video rant make a difference? In the short term, probably not. If we don't continue to make our will known, however, things will never change. All too often we just accept hardware as it is, because we're smart enough to get things working regardless of the help we get (or don't get) from vendors. Personally, I'd rather see our efforts put elsewhere, and I thought vendors should know. If you agree, be sure to let your sales rep know. If we don't tell them, they might never have a clue.

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