A Little More Love for Laptop Linux in 2017
Even with modern installers for Fedora and Ubuntu, wiping Windows and installing Linux is still a hassle for many Linux users when they buy a new laptop. Those days might be numbered as the number of laptops shipping with Linux slowly grows, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement in the user experience.
Linux is the number-one kernel on the planet.
It runs on everything from IoT devices and cell phones to high-end supercomputers. Yet life with Linux on a laptop has often been full of compromise. Nvidia drivers still don’t play nice with Wayland. ACPI power management can be hit or miss. And Wi-Fi can still cause headaches sometimes. Even so, Linux is far better on laptops today than it was five years ago.
Historically, hardware woes could be avoided by looking for hardware that was compatible with Linux before buying.
Since manufacturers didn’t exactly advertise Linux compatibility, it was up to the user to figure out the make, model, and revision of the key pieces of hardware in a laptop. But this can be tricky, because manufacturers rarely list the hardware in that much detail on their web stores.
That trend is slowly changing, however. Dell has a growing line of PCs for “developers” that come with Ubuntu Linux and Linux-friendly hardware.
The lineup isn’t too shabby, either: Dell has Linux machines ranging from the XPS 13 Developer Edition to the Precision 5720 desktop all-in-one. Depending on the model, you can get a laptop with an i7 or Xeon CPU, and loads of RAM, that launches Ubuntu’s setup on the first boot. That’s nice.
Really nice. But still, the developer offerings are only a fraction of Dell’s product offerings, and many have to be purchased through Dell’s business sales website. I also have yet to find discount portals (for things such as student discounts) for any of the developer models.
But Dell isn’t the only player.
Boutique Linux PC maker System76 has an impressive line of laptops as well.
Though lacking the svelte carbon fiber appearance t hat gr aces Dell’s PCs, System76’s machines do compete in terms of power and features.
(The Galago Pro has an RJ-45 Ethernet port on the right that collapses down when not in use to preserve the PC’s thin profile.) System76 has gone one step further than Dell, too: Recently, System76 released a beta version of its own OS, dubbed Pop! OS. When I took a look at it, Pop! was little more than Ubuntu Gnome with a custom desktop and color theme.
Even so, the f act that a PC manufacturer took the time to extend its branding by customizing an OS is worth notice.
No matter how good these machines are, the laptop world is still dominated by Windows.
Even ThinkPads that have been a reliable choice for mobile Linux users still come with Windows.
Luckily, Linux has gotten easier and easier to install. Ubuntu and Fedora have newbie-friendly graphical menus that guide the user through installation.
Even Arch, which is notoriously tedious to set up, can be easily installed by using the derivative OS Manjaro. I should also note that Fedora’s USB writing tool for Windows is the easiest and most foolproof way to write a bootable USB stick I’ve ever seen, yanking the barrier to entry yet lower.
Even though it has gotten easier to install Linux, paying the Windows tax and banishing Windows from your SSD will endure for the vast majority of laptop models on the market.
But if Dell or System76’s offerings catch your eye, you can bypass the setup BS and get back to actually using your PC.