Linux in an Apple and Microsoft World

Linux in an Apple and Microsoft World

Apple and Microsoft are getting ready to release some new, updated machines that will hopefully address issues such as lack of innovation and “all-around craptitude.” It kind of makes me wonder if the open source community is prepared to try some introspection and ask some hard questions.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft had a kind of emotional breakdown when they started “hearting Linux.” Years and years of calling it everything but a milk cow led to a CEO shakeup (not really the cause, but still…) and supposedly a full-on acknowledgement that the open source people are onto something. Congratulations to them for coming to this realization after 25 years.

And we’ve done our share of well-deserved dogging them for that and now, well, I guess it’s time to kiss and make up. But in the meantime, I believe we need to be curious about what they’re doing in terms of hardware innovation.

Sure, Linux and open source has always been more about substance over style. Raw machine power and reliability are what we want, not necessarily chic design and gorgeousness. I said “necessarily”. But we live in a world where hit records assures rock star status. Likewise, Linux needs a machine that rocks like Sabbath, but looks like Taylor Swift.

Why? Because, my friends, this is a new era. Newer Linux operating systems that exist to have a broad appeal are not slouches in the looks department. Design and ingenuity are now complementing power and efficiency. We’ve always known this was possible. But there are those who are actually doing it. Look at the likes of Elementary, the MATEs, the Budgies; they’re all producing something with beauty and brains. Shouldn’t our hardware do the same?

Don’t misunderstand; I love my System76 Gazelle Pro. It’s…attractive. It’s got it where it counts. Meanwhile, on the shores of Librem Land, they’ve got unbelievably gorgeous laptops that go to the extreme in security, but pay a hefty price in performance and hardware bugs.

Let’s not get into the fact that the prices for up-to-date configs on these machines are “Hoo Lordy!”. Let’s pretend for today that money is no object.

Isn’t it interesting how in so many years we’ve not made the same connection between aesthetics and all the other qualities that make us really want to buy a machine that ships with Linux? Not to sound elitist, but I’ve often thought of Linux people being the smartest people in the realm of technology. We’ve got a lot of folks who contribute on a non-technical level and have the design chops to make Jony Ives envious. Where the heck are they?

And why would an open source effort, with amazing design, release a half-baked laptop concept at the peril of getting less-than-stellar reviews on quality upon release? Moreover, why would they send a nasty response to reviewers for something they brought on themselves? A word to the wise would be to not put it out there unless it’s your best work, in this instance.

The sad part is I really don’t have any hard answers to these questions. Some may be locked into purchasing agreements for certain types of hardware housing that need to be reviewed. Some are banking on innovative concepts and designs to get them through the day. Here’s the fact–it’s not about surviving. When you’re all-in on hardware that everybody recognizes and uses on a daily basis, it’s about making the other guy go into survival mode. And making small batch PCs and laptops would only do more to place the onus for quality as well as design on the manufacturer. It’s about growth–going from small to big and maintaining the balances between quality, innovation and aesthetic.

Have you seen the big boys lately? Even HP has cleaned up their act–and they had some fugly machines. Quality? Ehhhh…I don’t know. I’d like to get my hands on one of their newest and try them out. But for sure, they’ve upped their game since they realize that they might be actually competing against the likes of Apple.

And Chromebooks? Have you seen some of the newest of these machines? The new Acer Chromebook 15 is just lovely! It’s a good, solid machine and not even that much more expensive than its predecessors.

This only makes the point even more relevant. You don’t have to price yourself out of business to put on a better looking outfit.
Granted, I understand that in the Linux world it’s often a matter of moving sand dunes with teaspoons. Often, the rug gets yanked and, lo and behold, where the heck is Mycroft? What happened to the promise of mailpile? Why can I only name three companies that manufacture and ship PCs with Linux pre-installed?

Maybe it’s time some effort is focused on addressing these issues to make Linux pre-installed hardware more of a driving force. Thank God for System76 and Entroware, ZaReason, and ThinkPenguin. But we need more competition in this market. That kind of energy comes with innovation, good looks, reliability and even lower prices pre-installed.

That’s what I call a dream machine.

Michael Huff on GoogleMichael Huff on Twitter
Michael Huff
Michael Huff is a programmer and data analyst in the healthcare field in Hazard, Kentucky. A Linux enthusiast, he has worked in the IT field for the last seven years. He also has a background in journalism and contributes a weekly tech column to a local newspaper.

He resides in Carrie, Kentucky with his wife Dana, his son Aiden Roth, two rescued dogs and a very capable and deadly three-legged cat.

After several years using Ubuntu and Debian-based distros, he recently ventured into the openSUSE world.

4 thoughts on “Linux in an Apple and Microsoft World”

  1. First off, an awesome and well written article. Here’s my few but lengthy views on this matter in the big picture.

    Design and Desktop environments

    The diversity of the different desktops around for Linux is both a strength, but also to some extent a downfall. For example, since I have a beefy machine at the office – I run KDE5 Plasma (Arch Linux) and at home I run MATE (Ubuntu) on my 7+ year old hardware. It works, but the lag of details of MATE makes me smile when I’m finally at the office. Not only being faster, the design is just pleasant to look at and use – even after many, many hours. And design can also be functionality. For example on KDE5 Plasma you have a “spotlight-like” feature. You press ALT + ENTER and a search bar appears, that searches everything on your system. Files or programs.
    A possible solution would be to try and do what Google has done with Android. Implementing and developing Material Design. ( It makes apps and the system itself, look and feel more alive – and also adds consistency across the different applications. Should this be the only thing? Of course not, it’s Linux! Diversity is key, but having a common level ground wouldn’t hurt. (How many times haven’t you used a program in one Desktop Enverionment that works perfect, only to realise the other environments butchering it. Maybe even not working at worst.)

    Hardware and manufacturers

    The problem here is monopoly in my humble opinion. Dell to name one, has tried to come up with laptops that ship Linux out of the box. But the problem is that the hardware itself is proprietary or was at least meant to be used with a different (Windows) operating system in mind. So it always takes Linux some time to catch up every time new hardware arrives, instead of working from the start with trying to make it work all the places. And this is mainly due to Microsoft being who they are. “You make hardware, and if it doesn’t support us only – we won’t sell our Windows license with your hardware.”
    On that front, there need to be a change of mind. Shifting the paradigm completely I reckon. This is by far the biggest hurdle, that old hardware is more supported than new. What could be done now about this? I don’t know. It’s far from a simple answer.

    – I know, lengthy comment. But it’s something I’ve wanted to get off my chest, since I completely moved to Linux a few years back. I don’t run anything else. Unless I take my MacBook Pro from 13″ late 2010 model and ssh into my workstation – running Arch Linux at the office. Desktop and hardware has to play together to make the entire experience. It’s the small details that keep people using their products in the long run. Microsoft could barely touch their design for years to come, and be just fine. Because the software is built for that design experience. This was my “quick” two cents on the subject.

  2. Really enjoyed the article. I had to go check out all those manufacturers you mentioned and all I can say is, “DANG!” I would love to have one of those Lemurs from System 76, but my wallet will only allow for a used Windows unit. It would be nice if they could offer a cheaper model with a little older processor or something like that for those of us don’t need all the horsepower they are offering. Then again, I know I’m not their target audience. These things seem to be “for developers, by developers” and I’m not a developer. I just want something that works and has nothing to do with Windows. Have a good weekend.

  3. I agree, thank god for the companies you mentioned. I own an Oryx Pro and I absolutely love it. I’m willing to bet that if they upped their game on just the ‘looks’ side of things, people would really take notice. They had a ton of interest just this week with the less than stellar product announcements from Apple.

  4. Great article, and the struggle is real. I just survived this torturous process to buy a laptop that is guaranteed to run Linux perfectly. As far as choices goes there is very little to pick from when it cames to pre-installed Linux. So the best we can do is to hunt down the ideal machine that may or may not run linux well. It took me quite a lot of time before I settled for my HP ProBook 430 G4, HP was nice enough to release detailed hardware specifications (without some research you may never know if you get something with broadcom wireless for example that just won’t work). So in my opinion, we must go out of our ways and contact manufacturers/sellers just to be sure. What I would like to see is that every manufacturer should label their product if it is compatible or not with modern linux distros. And if something like a fingerprint scanner here or there lacks the drivers but the machine overall works great it should be noted at least.

Leave a Comment