Two Signs of the Time

by James Turner

Two useful indicators of the increasing viability of Linux on the desktop; one personal, one public. The public one is the imminent announcement of preinstalled Linux on Dell Desktop machines, combined with the news that Vista is foundering enough for OEMs to fall back to XP.

The other, more personal, is what happened when I went into CompUSA last night to buy a new laptop. Because I do Linux product reviews, it had to be able to dual-boot Linux well, and specifically support Beryl. I had resigned myself to the usual buy-and-pray approach, looking at the several dozen laptops on display, since even a quick web search on my PDA didn't offer much guidance.

Not expecting much help, I lassoed a salesdroid to try to at least get some advice on which one would run Vista Aero best, and mentioned that Linux and Beryl were a major concern. I was surprised to hear that the droid ran Ubuntu at home, and more surprised when he told me he'd grab the 'Linux Expert' from the back of their tech support / repair area.

Within a few minutes, they had gone off to do some research on which models would meet my needs best. 30 minutes later (!), they returned to announce that my best bet would be a Core2 Duo HP with an Intel graphics chip. I was skeptical, but decided to give it a go. I took it home, shrunk the Vista partition (nice new feature in Vista...), and installed Feisty Fawn. True to their word, not only did the Wifi work with WPA right off the bat, but the AIXGL support for the Intel graphics processor did as well, and Beryl came right up.

Now, to keep this from being a total love fest, I should mention that the salesperson also tried to convince me that installing Linux would void the HP warranty, something I sincerely doubt. But this was in the context of trying to sell me an extended warranty, which is when all the FUD and half-truths come out. Overall, I was hugely impressed by the degree to which they both knew, and were willing to assist me with, Linux.

Both of these events tell me that, while this might not be THE year of Linux on the Desktop, it's going to be a major step forward.


2007-04-24 12:19:22
Shocking. The salesdroids (I like that term) at our local CompUSA store never seemed to know anything except their recited sales pitches. It is a good sign indeed. [GrammarCop note: Should be "Signs of the Times" and "AIGLX support". :P]
2007-04-24 12:40:53
I'm beginning to find the same shift in the professional world as well. Recently a sales rep for a very Windows-centric software company (Who's been trying repeatedly to get a foot in the door) made a surprize return call with their staff Linux geek. While the 'Windows sales rep' was still dazed and confused, the newly added 'Linux sales rep' and myself had a nice discussion about storage solutions and may do business in the near future.
2007-04-24 21:43:25
Actually, HP's policy is that they may make you switch back to Windows before they will honor a hardware warranty. As the headline for the article shows, there was a bit of hyperbole when this store first came out:

2007-04-25 19:41:22
I had a some what similar encounter when I was trying to hunt down a WRT54GL (the Linux router that Linksys put out) and was in staples. This 'jr. salesdroid' (he looked 15 to me) came up and asked me if I wanted a cupon for a PC tune up. Maybe it was my hat that made me look old, but I told him that I used Linux and he replied "Yea, there is no way you would need this then" We then talked about the Debian and Ubuntu releases...
Linux is gaining ground if a kid in the midwest knows about Linux by the time he's able to work part time....
Sum Yung Gai
2007-04-25 19:44:28
The salesdroids (I like that term, too--hope you don't mind if I borrow it w/ attribution!) at my local CompUSA are utterly clueless. I mention Linux, they get this "eww, you've got cooties" look on their faces and try to talk down to me as if I know nothing about computers. "Linux is no good, Vista is the only way to go" is what I've actually heard one of them say. This is even *BEFORE* Vista's corporate launch in November 2006! I brought the discussion back from snotty-pimply-faced-kid mode to actual logical questions about computers, and they fell apart. They weren't so bold with their attitude anymore afterwards...funny that.... :-)

You may have been fortunate at your CompUSA, but your experience, sadly, is exceedingly rare.

2007-04-26 03:59:45
I noticed something similar here in the local Saturn outlet (Saturn being a German electronics and media chain). When a couple of years ago I wanted to buy a printer for my Linux system I met only blank stares and had to ask the people for access to the web in order to check out This year, same question, not only did I immediately get a knowing nod but the salesperson actually was able to say something about the printers in stock and Linux right off the bat.

Times are changing, slowly but surely.

2007-04-26 12:14:32
I bought a Dell Laptop a few years ago, and after running linux on it for almost 2 years, I got a thin white line across the screen. Obviously a HW problem. I had an extended warranty on it, so I thought I would give them a try. After an hour on the phone with the tech support person, we got down to the last question -- "Ok, it looks like a problem with your VGA card, go into My Computer ...". I had to stop them and say I didn't have a My Computer as I was running linux. (There was this long silence on the phone), and then the Tech Support said "Sorry you are out of Warranty and we cannot help you.". I went down to the local fixit shop, they determined it was the VGA card, installed a new one, and it worked.

Maybe Dell has changed its spots, but I really get pissed off at this Windows stranglehold on the industry.

2007-05-01 03:07:40
You get extra points for "salesdroid"! Been looking at System76 PC for home when work gave me new Dell 620 Laptop. I popped Ubuntu disk in soon as I powered it up so LT never saw the MS logo boot and I and the LT are :) HelpDesk at work cringed until I said "if it breaks I'll put MS XP on before Dell comes to service it". Co-worker went w/ the pre-installed MSVista on there new LT. Now they're thinking of dumping the Windo-pain for a Tux. Sure wish Michael Dell would at least offer their full PC range w/o MSWindows and its "tax" - I know where to find a friendly Penguin distro.
2007-05-21 08:59:03
The sales kid was correct about voiding the warranty. I used to work for HP Tech repairs. BUT!!!, it's only voided while another operating system other then the default one that was originally installed is on the computer. If something happens to the computer, you need to try to find a way to place your original operating system back on the hard drive and BOOM!! our contract states that your warranty is reinstated. So the kid is correct, he just left out what you have to do to get it back. Call HP Tech support; they'll tell you the same thing I did.