The FLOSS four, then and now.

Okay, so now that you’ve downloaded the brand-spanking-new version of Ubuntu, what are you going to run it on?

A similar question faced Linux users more than a decade ago. Desktop Linux distributions have always run on commodity hardware, but late in the last century a quartet of computer makers went a little bit further:

HP, IBM, Dell and Compaq formed the principal group of hardware vendors that made high-profile statements of support for GNU/Linux in 1999…

Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution

Granted, the support of which they spoke was really about the deployment of Red Hat Linux in business environments — but even this was a huge deal at the time, and gave both Linux and the FLOSS movement in general some much-needed credibility in the wider world.

So how are the FLOSS four doing 11 years on? Let’s find out…

But first, some notes:

  • The informal findings below are based on results from the Canadian market. If things are different where you’re reading this please let me know!
  • I’m consciously focusing on desktop (and laptop) computers here, since we all know that Apache rules the server-verse. 😎

Oh, and Compaq is out of the running, since they merged with HP in 2001. But you already knew that, right?

Lenovo, who got the rights to IBM’s PC division in 2005, doesn’t seem to sell any desktop products without Windows — which is a real shame, because I think their hardware is both stylish and dependable, from the cheap and cheerful laptop I got in 2006 (okay, that wasn’t stylish at all) to my new all-in-one.

I’m also secretly lusting after a ThinkPad x100e, and my birthday is only 11 and a half months away…

HP also sells a fine netbook in Canada — the Mini 210, which is quite affordable as well. Unfortunately, there’s nary an option for Linux as a default OS on any of the computers they offer, at least in this country.

But HP does at least deserve some brownie points for rescuing beleaguered Palm from an uncertain fate — so long as its reasons for so doing are pure;  i.e. to bring that slick webOS to more new products and not just call dibs on a bunch of patents.

A search for “Linux” on Dell.ca yielded a fantastic 501 results, yet the only computers  I could find were a pair of netbooks with “Red Hat Ubuntu” (?) 8.04 — the previous LTS (long-term support) release.

Once again, you can download and install Ubuntu (or the distro of your choice) on products from any of these companies, but of the original FLOSS four only Dell is currently selling computers without a Windows license.

Thankfully, there are four new hardware manufactures who have taken up the Linux torch…

Say what you like about the default Xandros on the Asus 900 and 901, that this pair of early netbooks were free of the “Microsoft tax” was enough for me to end up buying one of each.

IMHO, Asus is largely responsible for kickstarting the netbook revolution, and all the wonderful netbook distros that came with it. They’ve since regressed to a Windows-only shop it would seem, but their contributions to netbooks and FLOSS should not be forgotten.

HTC, long a maker of Windows Mobile handsets for other companies, got the nod to produce Google’s first Android handset, the Dream/G1.

They’ve been on a roll ever since, and make some of the most desirable Android products out there, like the Hero, the Legend and the Desire.

As a hardware and software company Nokia deserves kudos for making two of their major operating systems open source.

Though the benefits of Symbian seem to be largely for developers, Maemo and the forthcoming MeeGo are aimed squarely at us, the end users.

For the world’s number-one manufacturer of mobile devices, this is a pretty big deal.

Bringing computers and Linux to kids in the developing world makes the OLPC project pretty much a no-brainer, doesn’t it… But the thought and care that’s gone into designing a laptop specifically for this market — one that can withstand the elements, operate in bright sunlight and make the most of a battery charge — makes it an especially worthy endeavour.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim Asus, HTC, Nokia & OLPC as the new FLOSS four, leading the way in software freedom by bringing it to new products and markets.

Unless you think there are better or additional candidates…?

24 comments:

  1. “Say what you like about the default Xandros on the Asus 900 and 901, that this pair of early netbooks were free of the “Microsoft tax” was enough for me to end up buying one of each.”

    Sadly, you DID pay a Microsoft tax if you bought netbooks preinstalled with Xandros. They sold their souls to Steve Ballmer a few years ago.

    http://www.xandros.com/xandrosandmicrosoft.html

  2. “Say what you like about the default Xandros on the Asus 900 and 901, that this pair of early netbooks were free of the “Microsoft tax” was enough for me to end up buying one of each.”

    Sadly, you DID pay a Microsoft tax if you bought netbooks preinstalled with Xandros. They sold their souls to Steve Ballmer a few years ago.

    http://www.xandros.com/xandrosandmicrosoft.html

  3. “Say what you like about the default Xandros on the Asus 900 and 901, that this pair of early netbooks were free of the “Microsoft tax” was enough for me to end up buying one of each.”

    Sadly, you DID pay a Microsoft tax if you bought netbooks preinstalled with Xandros. They sold their souls to Steve Ballmer a few years ago.

    http://www.xandros.com/xandrosandmicrosoft.html

  4. I wouldn’t give up on IBM just yet; they have been pushing some Ubuntu-related solutions to enterprise customers lately. Also, I don’t see why you’d put Asus (who no longer sells anything with Linux) over Dell (who, despite paring down their selection, still actually sells Linux netbooks).

    Let’s not forget Google here either!

  5. I wouldn’t give up on IBM just yet; they have been pushing some Ubuntu-related solutions to enterprise customers lately. Also, I don’t see why you’d put Asus (who no longer sells anything with Linux) over Dell (who, despite paring down their selection, still actually sells Linux netbooks).

    Let’s not forget Google here either!

  6. I wouldn’t give up on IBM just yet; they have been pushing some Ubuntu-related solutions to enterprise customers lately. Also, I don’t see why you’d put Asus (who no longer sells anything with Linux) over Dell (who, despite paring down their selection, still actually sells Linux netbooks).

    Let’s not forget Google here either!

  7. umm, none of the “new four” sell mainstream desktops and notebooks…

    i think there’s something to be said for the small VARs who are buying whitebox hardware and selling it with ubuntu preinstalled and no windows tax, like system76 and zareason.

  8. umm, none of the “new four” sell mainstream desktops and notebooks…

    i think there’s something to be said for the small VARs who are buying whitebox hardware and selling it with ubuntu preinstalled and no windows tax, like system76 and zareason.

  9. umm, none of the “new four” sell mainstream desktops and notebooks…

    i think there’s something to be said for the small VARs who are buying whitebox hardware and selling it with ubuntu preinstalled and no windows tax, like system76 and zareason.

  10. Its not the HW vendors that kick *nix in the bollocks its the SW vendors. The major reason for not using *nix is lack of major ports; OO and GIMP simply are not industrial strength – they lack features and 100% compatibility. As for the rest of CS there are again random less powerful and weak clones. I work in a design agency. We have to use MS office because clients require it. CS suite is at least 2-3 generations ahead of anything FOSS has to offer. Talk to Adobe about its open platform stance and then look at what they release for *nix – nuffin’.

  11. Its not the HW vendors that kick *nix in the bollocks its the SW vendors. The major reason for not using *nix is lack of major ports; OO and GIMP simply are not industrial strength – they lack features and 100% compatibility. As for the rest of CS there are again random less powerful and weak clones. I work in a design agency. We have to use MS office because clients require it. CS suite is at least 2-3 generations ahead of anything FOSS has to offer. Talk to Adobe about its open platform stance and then look at what they release for *nix – nuffin’.

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