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Tony Mobily [opinions]

Have I already lost my bet?

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I am angry. It’s not a good state to be in, and it’s definitely not healthy. However, today I just can’t help it.

The main problem is that I have a bet going on, and I feel I am going to lose it. My bet is that by 2010, more than 50% of the world’s laptop sales will have GNU/Linux preinstalled, rather than Windows.

Until a little while ago, I was feeling optimistic. However, my optimism fell after I decided that I needed a new laptop.

You’ve probably guessed already: I want a laptop with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled, and I’m having a great deal of trouble finding one.

Yes, I know, there are some honourable attempts out there. For example, there are small laptop shops that make sure that “everything works” in GNU/Linux, and give you a working machine—no fuss. But what is still missing, in nearly 2007, is a big brand (see: Dell, Toshiba, Sony, etc.) marketing, selling, pushing their GNU/Linux laptops. Yes, Lenovo laptops often work well with GNU/Linux, but to me that’s not good enough—in fact, far from it for a start they don’t sell them with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Other brands have started releasing binary-only Linux drivers. Again, this is not good enough; in fact, many would argue that it’s a step towards the wrong direction...

After much complaining, I guess I should come up with a possible solution. Unfortunately, there isn’t “a solution” as such. In order for me to win this bet (I haven’t lost all hope just yet), a number of things must happen.

First of all, as manufacturers will only listen to high-demand, users—end users—must request that machines come with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Some manufacturers will realise that they don’t use Linux-friendly hardware, and will deal with the problem (by creating a new laptop line, or by changing the type of hardware they use).

Also, chip makers must be lobbied so that they release the specs for their cards. Keeping specs secret is a complete waste of time; unfortunately, a few crucial companies out there haven’t understood this just yet.

There needs to be a set of hardware (webcams, cameras, MP3 players and so on) which come with a “GNU/Linux Compatible” logo, so that users don’t worry about not being able to buy hardware at common shops. We all need to remember that asking people to recompile their kernels, or compile a driver, is not feasible for 95% of the users out there.

Laptop vendors need to offer their full support to GNU/Linux. This is the scary part for them: they’ve started with Windows, have grown up with it, and, to a lot of them, supporting Windows has required extensive and regular retraining. However, vendors need to be reassured that supporting GNU/Linux will require work, but is definitely achievable.

Finally, third-party software installation needs to be easy. I am talking about all those pieces of software which come with dictionaries, encyclopaedias, local governments, etc. These things will never be found in a repository, because they simply don’t belong there. For this to happen, a mixture of lobbying and customer demand will do the trick, but it will take time.

I only bet a single dollar—a single gold coin that is worth less now than it was seven years ago when I made my bet. But, when I do end up paying that dollar to Andrea (who is waiting and grinning), it won’t be about me being a dollar out of pocket: it will be about millions of computer users who, because of absurd and illegal and unethically monopolistic behaviours, will still be given a virus-prone, unstable, expensive, privacy-insensitive system—and won’t even know it.

(Maybe I should have said 2015, instead of 2010?)

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