Open letter to Mark Shuttleworth

by Jeremiah Foster

Dear Mr. Shuttleworth,

Get into the hardware business.

I saw you speak in 2004 in Gothenburg Sweden at the EuroPython conference, you gave the keynote (excellent speech) and told the audience about your upcoming project. It was a linux distribution that would be focused on the desktop and come with commercial support, two things you saw as being necessary to linux success.

Now Canonical and Ubuntu have made great strides toward realizing your vision yet there remains a bottleneck - people still have to install linux. Installing linux is easier than ever, but installing any operating system is unfortunately not trivial and is a chore that most computer users have no use for and will avoid. Remove this impediment, sell linux pre-installed.

Your company has been building a support network to support Ubuntu, this is a key ingredient in any successful hardware offering. Lack of a support system for linux is cited by Dell as a reason why it cannot just open the floodgates and soak the masses with cheap laptops. But you have that support network already built.

There are partners out there to potentially work with, like Asus or Acer. I think Acer would love to build Ubuntu branded laptops, then they could really challenge Dell. This is of course speculation on my part but the 100,000+ votes for pre-installed linux on Dell's idea storm shows that there is a business case to be made for a Ubuntu laptop. You can even go upmarket and get IDEO to design your laptop or desktop, there is still a decent profit margin there and free software tools for creatives like Inkscape and the GIMP have improved substantially which might bring some of those taste makers onboard.

In short;

- there is a market for pre-installed linux
- you already have the support system
- potential partners exist in the hardware branch
- you already have the software

Thanks for reading Mark and I hope to be able to buy a Ubuntu laptop in 2008, put me down as your first customer.


Kiran Ayyagari
2007-03-06 08:27:18

Kiran Ayyagari.
Hewlett Packard

2007-03-06 13:20:00
Well this is a great idea, but they Mark must make sure that he tie Canonical to closely to the pre-installed PCs business so if anything goes wrong it doesn't bring Canonical down with it as it is a great company and I love it's distro(s) ([K/X/Ed]Ubuntu.

Also there are already manufacturers installing pre-installing Linux such as System76 and some smaller companies buying OSless laptops from Manufacturers and installing Linux, such as a UK based organization, 'The Linux Emporium', who buy notebooks from Lenovo (such as Thinkpads and 3000 N100) and installing and optimizing Linux, in fact I using this model right now, the only difference being I upgraded to edgy, it was a great service, came in 3 or 4 days and even had personally written letters and a read me on the desktop, that had began 'Hello ' which had obviously been written personally for me, whats that like for service.

2007-03-06 17:27:52
I am with you Jeremiah 100% here! This is the the next logical step.

Instead of going over ourselves putting proprietary components into GNU/Linux expecting that this will somehow make larger numbers of people flock over, we should bridge the much more obvious gap towards higher adoption, and that's exactly what you describe: pre-installed GNU/Linux.



Marc Wiriadisastra
2007-03-06 18:00:18
My only concern is whether cetain hardware can perform due to the propietary drivers.

As like anything I feel that the propietary drivers and other program vendors are the biggest hindrance to the progress of Linux in general.

While I agree Ubuntu has made great strides in the desktop market I can only feel dissapointed that hardware and program vendors have not made the move. (e.g. games etc...)

2007-03-06 18:21:49
Marc, if Canonical (or anyone for that matter) builds computers only with hardware which works properly with existing free drivers than this is not a big issue.

For almost any hardware there already are good functional drivers, and yes that includes video cards. I can vouch for ATI Radeon 9600 working great with R300 free driver.

Btw, I submit this to digg:

I think it's a very important call worth supporting.


Linux supporter
2007-03-06 18:32:20
I think the lack of applications for Linux is at least as much of a hindrance, if not more so, than hardware support. Many software companies don't offer for Linux the programs companies and schools depend on, such as popular office, financial, graphical, grading, and other programs. Why buy a Linux computer when Windows is included in the cost of your PC, and none of your important applications run on Linux? I would like to stop using Windows completely, but too much of what I do at work and bring home with me depends on it.
2007-03-06 18:39:00
@Linux supporter

Well, there are equivalent applications for many (and most actually) of the areas you mentioned. Sure it would take a bit of getting used to, but it pays off.

Why does it pay off? Well, you say Windows price is included in a price of the PC. Yes, that's what makes your PC more expensive, so you DO actually pay for it. And what do you get in the end is mostly a bare OS so you need to shell out even more money for these proprietary applications.

If you would just go and buy a GNU/Linux PC, provided it is available, you get a full featured operating system ready to be extended, freely, with more software and applications that you need.

We can't just expect a new operating system to be completely the same as the old one (windows), but it is in many ways better, and saves you money, gives you freedom and flexibility. I think it's worth the bit of effort (especially when this effort is substantialy reduced by having no need to actually install it).

2007-03-06 18:42:41
Ubuntu installed with no MS tax
2007-03-06 19:11:43
Sounds like an excellent idea. Count me in as the second customer.
I would love to have a Laptop that Just Works (tm) with linux, not to mention a"Built for Ubuntu Linux" sticker on my Laptop
2007-03-06 20:30:23
i would buy one -- third customer
2007-03-06 21:57:08
2007-03-07 02:55:34
Isn't this the approach that Linspire has dedicated itself to? It might be better for Canonical for a manufacturer eg. you mention Acer, to approach Canonical to enter a partnership to help support Ubuntu on a line of Linux notebooks they want to market. Otherwise Canonical would have to transition itself into a hardware sales company, and dilute it's important focus on linux desktop software integration.
2007-03-07 09:18:14
I definitly agree. I have tried Ubuntu on a Macbook. It worked like a champ. My wireless recognized instantly and even my video card was activated with 3D rendering without activating anything. I believe it is so because of the relatively limited use of hardware that Apple uses. Unlike a PC where there are hundred of variationns of hardware used. Thus making it very difficult for sofware to automatically recognize and configure. By controlling both the hardware and the software sides of the equation then Ubuntu would be the "Apple Macintosh" with a cheaper price.
2007-03-07 10:04:11
nth costumer
Elmer G
2007-03-07 10:21:42
There is a small company that already sales desktops and laptops with Ubuntu loaded, you may wan to check it out...
2007-03-07 10:34:30
Why can't the community take care of providing a suitable installation mechanism?!

It should be possible to create something like "global configuration files", which immediately set up Ubuntu [or another distro] with the right starting settings for the chosen computer model.

It would be a bit similar to the BSD concept of ports. There, *NIX software can be compiled with just the little changes that allow it to run under *BSD.

But here we would need these little changes for a whole distro and for binary packages [.deb or .rpm] instead of source code.

The ideal install-tool would allow me to start a bare minimum installation of Ubuntu [or other distro] and then bring me to a screen, where I can pick one model from a list of hundreds of PCs/Laptops. This would then start the full installation tailored to the specific model, with the right drivers, screen and audio settings etc. (not totally unlike choosing a printer out of a list and installing it).

Would it really be so difficult to provide this as a community effort? Maybe Canonical could once develop the mechanism and the community could then take over and provide the configuration files for the many many computer models out there.

And finally, companies like Dell etc. could provide these configuration files as a service to their customers.

Now, who tells Mark about my ideas?

Ubuntu on UMPC
2007-03-07 12:37:00

The next big thing in PC market is that UMPC will soon be accepted by a chunk of people. Ubuntu should be widely used on UMPC because

The best thing Linux can provide is high performance and high efficiency which is more important to UMPC. Ubuntu should have good opportunity and bright future on UMPC.

2007-03-07 16:46:05
I am expecting the Portland project to bear fruit soon. With it, the current Windows-only developers will be able to do the job just once for several platforms. Portland will allow Linux to overcome the highest barrier: the professional applications that everybody will use. Corporations will pay what it takes to have those applications, so real ISV's will thrive.
2007-03-07 16:56:41
Canonical should also buy into "enlightenment" of the clueless masses. I was just hired at a LARGE hardware company that is defecating building materials over the need to RETROFIT Vista in all their installed base, because they "are afraid M$ will stop supporting XP soon" Hell, these things are not even tied to the Interent!
Uvuntu (or ANY distro) would do the job BEAUTIFULLY, and at a TREMENDOUS cost savings. Only they have no clue beyond what they "know", and are therefore "suckered" into the M$ myth!

Truly it would be money well spent in some proof of concept mass market education.


2007-03-07 18:16:29
There's a lot more to building and supporting hardware than many realize, just like it wouldn't be easy for a PC OEM maker to support their own distro.

Rather than distract Mark's focus building the best Linux distribution lets help him find the right PC partners. Its also a faster path to the desired goal.

2007-03-07 19:00:20
don't know Mr Foster but agree so much
Brady Merriweather
2007-03-07 19:24:34
Sir, your answers had already been heard.
Anymore help?
Ubuntu Ohio Team Member
joseph smidt
2007-03-07 20:40:42
This is a great idea. If Mark can get Hardware which is made to work with Ubuntu Linux will take over.
2007-03-07 22:25:12
Great idea. I like Ubuntu
Chris Dawson
2007-03-08 00:22:45
My company is building our GPL podcasting device on top of Ubuntu.

I think you'll see plenty of smaller companies rising up to compete against larger well-funded appliance companies, and they will be attacking these large companies with very low cost devices developed on commodity hardware, running linux distros.

Tom Colman
2007-03-08 00:29:26
This is one of the best ideas I heard in a long time.

The big problem for the HP/Dells of this world is not installing linux. The problem is supporting is.

Canonical is already supporting linux.
When you make your own linux computer, you can select hardware that you know works and push component makers in the direction of creating open source drivers (or let the kernel people do that).

This could be a great advance for linux.

Finding design and manufacturing capacity should not be a problem, the Asus and Acers of this world will see this as an opportunity to sell more hardware. For them it is like a dream, sell stuff and not a lot of fuss (support) afterwards.

jeremiah foster
2007-03-08 02:54:15
Thanks everyone for pointing out that System 76 company sells Ubuntu pre-installed, that is potentially a good thing. However I feel there is a big difference between System 76 and Canonical selling computers and that difference is support. If System 76 were an 'authorized reseller' that partnered with Ubuntu and had a close relationship then it might work. Still there is no replacement for a company that takes its responsibilities seriously when it comes to support. Canonical could do this from hardware to software and that would go a long way towards soothing the fears of many a corporate purchasing agent.
2007-03-08 03:12:43
You have forgotten something important. Linux is part of the wave of the future nicely sidestepping the proprietary model. The PC i386 architecture is part of the previous wave. I think that Linux players should get IBM to come up with another open PC design based on the Cell architecture and existing interfaces that can use existing plug in boards. That would give Linux a platform worthy of its abilities, instead of being constrained by an out of date relatively stupid '80s system.
2007-03-08 06:03:07
Who are these people? Linux laptops have been around for YEARS. Check out the link. There's another company in Canada whose name I can't recall. I don't do laptops, so it's not on my radar...

Victor Rafael Rivarola
2007-03-08 07:56:08
Yes, this is an excelent idea.

Why we you at it, why not supporting the OpenOEM project too?

It is a project on designing a free computer (opposite of enslaved). We could definetly use your help.

Read more about it here, here, and here.

Can you imagine it? Ubuntu running on a free computer of your own making?

Come join us please, I am vrrivaro.

Abbas Khan
2007-03-08 12:31:11
Put me down as your second customer.
2007-03-08 14:23:17
Put me down for two. One laptop, one media center
2007-03-08 16:36:57
Sounds good.

I come from a country who's suppose to be one of the most wired country in the world, therefore you'll see laptops selling everywhere and people using just as much. ie. on the train, at cafes, etc. However 99.9% of these laptops are fitted with Windows and getting a laptop preinstalled with Linux is a futile battle. There isn't a local company selling such solutions as the masses are Window centric. The best I got was an Acer that came with an unknown distro. I think it would help tremendously if that Acer came with a Ubuntu sticker.

Recently my friend saw me working on my laptop and he went, "Is that Linux?". Upon confirmation, he questioned, "Why do you want to install Linux on your laptop?!". I think he has a point. Using Linux on laptops doesn't just stop at installing the OS. You have to give in hours of apt-getting applications and customization before you'll go, "Ok I have all that I need.".

If there is a pc/laptop maker with distributing might that has Ubuntu preinstalled with hardwares all working like a champ and coupled with a onslaught of great Ubuntu/Linux books hitting the shelf, then we'll surely see the 99.9% stats go down!

2007-03-08 20:18:35
Isn't weird how there is an obvious market need, but no medium to large company to satisfy this need. I'm tempted to buy from, but it seems like a small operation and it's about 300 dollars more than a dell with the same specs. I assume Dell can take advantage of economies of scale.
2007-03-09 13:16:34
I completely agree that consumers should be given a choice in which OS is initially installed by the OEM. However, I seem to remember reading some of the key provisions of a Microsoft OEM agreement which makes it difficult for PC makers to deliver anything other than Windows. I vividly remember these:

* OEM must apply the usual Windows stickers on all PCs sold AND provide a keyboard with a Windows key.

* OEM must not advertise PCs with an alternative or no OS installed.

* OEM must plaster all marketing material with "OEM recommends Windows XP".

If OEMs don't comply with agreement, including these provisions, they don't accumulate as many points when purchasing copies of Windows that are to be installed on consumers' machines. So, for the sake of argument, instead of paying Microsoft $25 per copy of XP Pro, the OEM would have to pay $100. Again, just an example...I have no idea what they're paying.

Given that PC makers do ANYTHING to shave their costs in order to remain competitive (why else would they STILL be shipping PS/2 mice and keyboards?), I don't think we'll be seeing OEMs start offering and advertising Linux on the desktop anytime soon. Unfortunately, they just don't have the leveraged advantage in this case.

Why didn't the DOJ attack these provisions in their anti-trust case against Microsoft rather than something as trivial as having IE in the Start menu and on the desktop?

2007-03-11 19:40:07
Danny Staple
2007-03-12 11:03:58
Although a laptop or desktop designed to run with Ubuntu would certainly interest me, I think a hardware certification scheme with "100% compatible with Ubuntu" certificates would be a fantastic idea. I for one would then prefer to buy such hardware, knowing that it would work with little fuss on my boxes.
On a shelf stocked with plenty of different manufacturers, such hardware would be my preference.
Jos Plompen
2007-03-12 12:56:06

Mark, contact Richard Branson.
He took on Pepsi and Coke for his new Cola.
He took on BA for his Virgin Atlantic.
He sure can take on Apple and Microsoft for Ubuntu!!

2007-03-12 17:20:50
I think the only thing holding FOSS back is there are no real hardware developers. If hardware were created for Linux, like Mac, life would be easier. I do not really see this happening. So I have to agree that Canonical needs to pick this up. I really do not see why they have not do it yet...
jeremiah foster
2007-03-12 18:18:30
The Free Software Foundation is actually trying to reach out to hardware vendors regarding Free Software, here is a good article discussing their approach:

Hopefully hardware vendors will start to realize there is a market for linux beyond embedded devices and start to catch up to the rest of us.

2007-03-13 12:45:49
Jeremiah Foster:

Again, your suggestion was already implemented well before you wrote it. System76 is in fact an Ubuntu partner.

jeremiah foster
2007-03-13 12:59:42
Thanks mdz for the comment. If you are in fact Matt Zimmerman it would be nice if you would perhaps let us know more about System 76 and their relationship with Ubuntu. For example, is this an "official" partnership? SYstem 76 is listed just as an affiliate not as a "partner", and btw what is the difference? Is this something that Ubuntu initiated or is this just a regular business partnership?
jeremiah foster
2007-03-14 14:08:54
Hmm. I won't call this a reply by Mark Shuttleworth though I sent him this blog post to his email address and he addresses many of the issues raised. It is interesting reading nonetheless. :)

2007-03-17 19:04:57
It's already been done by a joint venture of Linspire and Mirus Innovations. Certified Linux computers available at

Major OEM Launches First-Ever Line of PCs Dedicated Exclusively to Linux

Mirus Bets on Linspire Linux for New Line of "Koobox" Desktop Computers

SAN DIEGO, January 4, 2006 - Linspire and Mirus Innovations today announced the launch of Koobox, the first-ever line of desktop computers offered by a major OEM to exclusively run Linux. Starting at just $299, the Koobox machines come outfitted with a complete Linspire Linux operating system, including a Microsoft Office file-compatible office suite, Internet browser, email, IM client, media players, and a photo manager - the equivalent of hundreds of dollars worth of software. Three versions of the Koobox are available, including a basic machine, multimedia machine with DVD player and a high-performance machine. For details, visit

"The Koobox line is unique in that all of the computers are optimized for utilizing Linux exclusively," said Kevin Carmony, CEO of Linspire, Inc. "In fact, none of these machines even offer Microsoft Windows as an option, which is a new, bold step for a major OEM. The fact that Mirus has devoted an entire brand to desktop Linux shows just how much ground Linux is gaining."

Three versions of the Koobox are available, giving consumers the option to pick the PC that's right for them. At $299, the Essential Koobox is just right for basic computing - a perfect student machine or second home computer. The machine comes complete with CDRW drive, 5 USB ports, including a convenient front-side port, Internet keyboard and optical mouse, and 2W speakers. Inside, the machine rounds out with an AMD Sempron processor, 256 MB RAM, 40 GB hard drive, and onboard video and sound networks.

For $399, consumers may purchase the Multimedia Koobox, which features the Essential Koobox specs plus DVD player software, a 16x Dual Layer DVD+RW drive, 512 MB RAM, and 160 GB hard drive. The Performance Koobox, priced at $499, adds a super-fast AMD 64-bit Athlon 3000+ Processor to the mix. All machines come with the full Linspire operating system, including complete office suite, virus filtering and Web protection software.

All Koobox computers include a 90-day warranty, but for only $29 consumers can purchase an optional premium warranty with toll-free support and replacement parts. Other, expanded warranty options are available as well, including on-site technical support. For warranty details, see

Koobox computers are specifically manufactured and shipped directly by Mirus, fully certified by Linspire and tested by quality of standards that are ISO 9001 certified and 100 percent compliant with industry standards. Backed by 15 years of service expertise with more than 4,000 certified engineers and technicians, as well as two call centers, Mirus provides a stable and reliable source for Koobox customers.

"Consumers are demanding to have more choice in desktop Linux PCs," said Richard Shyu of Mirus. "By dedicating an entire line to desktop Linux, we're able to give consumers the choices they want with the sophisticated, complete end-user experience the Linspire Linux operating system brings to the home and institution PC market."

To purchase a Koobox, please visit

About Linspire, Inc.

Linspire, Inc. ( was founded in 2001 to bring choice into the operating system market. The company's flagship product, the Linspire operating system, is an affordable, easy-to-use Linux-based operating system for home, school, and business users. Linspire pioneered CNR Technology, which allows Linspire users access to thousands of software programs, each of which can be downloaded and installed with just one mouse click. The more than 2,400 software titles available in the CNR Warehouse ( include full office and productivity suites, games, multimedia players, photo management software, accounting tools, and more.

About Mirus Innovations

Mirus Innovations, a value-added manufacturer of computer products, strives to bring innovative digital lifestyle experiences to end users. Its products for consumers and small businesses include high-value, low-cost personal and mobile computing solutions, as well as On-Site and Life-Time Tech Support options. Its products are installed in hundreds of thousands of households and small businesses throughout North America.

For more information, please contact:

Heather MacKenzie
Linspire, Inc.
858-587-6700, ext. 263
858-587-8095 Fax

Simran G
2007-03-25 14:14:35
There are already companies selling good Linux laptops with Ubuntu. Check out
They even sell Thinkpads with Ubuntu.
Mike Wallace
2007-04-09 08:01:33
Good discussion.
However I can only get this discussion on windows as Linux -despite weeks of research and tries - has not yet managed to get my wlan to work.
I have a PhD; proficient in several programming languages right down to machine language. I have tried several sample distros - the latest pclos - which I like. However none of them have yet activated my TI ACX100 Wlan - and when I followed the vague instructions - littered with broken links - and gaps that assume that you know 'where to jump'; it has made the transition to Linux very fraustrating.
I know I am one of tens of thousands who are tempted to give up. Is it too hard for someone to produce a proper installer that doesn't require obscure steps that make MSDos look modern in comparison.
I need something solid to learn on and then experiment to increase experience. Without wlan - I have to download in windows - reboot in Linux and type in weird command lines that rarely work - or respong with obscure replies.
I hate windows - it is a poor botched up bloatware.

Come on Linux - get it user friendly and you will make a lot more friends!