Just when everyone's attention is focused on whether Linux is poised to become a reality on the desktop, the open-source operating system is leapfrogging its way onto the laptop.
In August, at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Hewlett-Packard lifted the lid on what it's billing as the first preinstalled Linux notebook from a major vendor. The unit is the HP Compaq nx500 business notebook. Equipped with Novell's SuSE version of Linux, the machine sells for an estimated street price of $1,140.
Efrain Rovira, worldwide director of Linux marketing for HP, claims that the laptop received an enthusiastic reception at the conference. "For hard-core Linux supporters, this was a big deal," he says.
Indeed, HP's announcement validated a Linux venue that has been a long time in coming. To date, the technical roadblock to Linux on the laptop has been the lack of proper support for ACPI, the advanced configuration and power interface specification. That's the feature by which the operating system controls power consumption to maximize a laptop's battery life. That problem has been licked in the nx500.
For VARs, it's perhaps notable that HP doesn't plan any special emphasis on the Linux angle as it markets the system. "This product is just like any other--the channel can order it," Rovira says. "I am looking to see what kind of reception this has in the SMB space."
Expectations are that it will do well, and that over time, demand for Linux preinstalls will rise. "We have more products in the pipeline already," Rovira adds.
HP, however, isn't the only vendor producing Linux laptops for the channel.
Laguna Beach, Calif.-based systems builder eRacks Open Source Systems offers two lines of laptops with Linux preinstalled, through both distributors and reseller partners. Its eRacks/Centron machine sells for $1,699 in a basic configuration built around a 1.5-GHz Intel Centrino Pentium-M processor. (Centrino has been highly touted by Intel as a next-generation wireless technology, which supports the 802.11x suite of WiFi networking standards.)
The eRacks/Centrino can be equipped with the customer's choice of Linux distribution, including Fedora, FreeBSD, Mandrake Linux, OpenBSD, SuSE and Red Hat Linux Professional. In a lower-end laptop, the same choices of Linux and a 1-GHz VIA Technologies "Antaur" processor can be had on the $995 eRacks/Subnote.
On the direct front, Linspire, the San Diego software vendor that has sought to position its $49.95 version of Linux as a low-cost alternative to Windows, is also getting into the laptop action. Canadian direct and online seller Sub500.com, which operates a retail store in Toronto, offers its $1,511 model ECS G732 laptop equipped with a Pentium 4 processor and Linspire preinstalled. Sub500 also markets standalone 40-GB and 80-GB Maxtor and Western Digital hard drives bundled with a copy of Linspire version 4.5. The drives sell for $80 and $115, respectively.