What's the Linux Tax Worth to You?

by chromatic

In When Do You Trade in Your Gibbon for a Heron?, I mentioned that I'm considering upgrading my System76 laptop from Gutsy Gibbon to Hardy Heron. A commenter named Scummy suggested that a similarly configured Dell system is cheaper:

Dude - you just paid a $350 'Linux Tax' by NOT going mainstream in your hardware...

Maybe so, but I think not. It depends on what you value.


2008-05-20 08:40:22
Dude, wrong assessment on both your parts. Scummy was comparing the cost of System76 vs Dell FOR HARDWARE. They he morphs that into a Tax on software selection. Bad Scummy! Shame on you for falling for it.

2008-05-20 09:18:15
One of the most obvious costs that no one seems to be mentioning is the cost of upgrading your OS. Windows charges you upwards of $300 per upgrade, and system requirements for each version of Windows increase with every release. Linux won't require more powerful hardware with each new kernel version update (or distro update) and upgrading to the newest version of your favorite Linux distro will, in most cases, not cost you a dime.
2008-05-20 09:21:13
That's an interesting twist, factoring in the worth of time, although the calculation is probably different for recreational hours, which have no tangible revenue but cost the opportunity to do something else less tedious. When I was in college I upgraded my PCs piecemeal because I had time but not money. When I recently bought a new system (by choice I'd fallen so far behind the technological curve that upgrading to be current wasn't an option any more), I opted for the one with the best performance per buck. My first tasks were repartitioning the drive, reinstalling Windows (mostly for the scanner and games), and installing Kubuntu. None of those tasks take as long nowadays. For a home computer the "Linux tax", the relative cost to have Linux preinstalled instead of spending recreational hours on installation, would have to be very small.
2008-05-20 09:44:13
Doesn't system76 also ship at no cost? Also, the service i hear is great from them. Let's also mention that system76 advertises linux (ubuntu) right from their front page...it's what they do. While Dell relegates linux to obscurity, hiding it deep withing their website, with webpages screaming at you basically to take windows instead.

I build my own pc's all the time, but if i decided to buy a system, i would prefer a company that really cares about linux.

2008-05-20 10:47:57
I call bullshit on this. Dell hardware is not the same as System76. Dell provides the cheapest hardware available, performance be damned. It might work fine physicaly, but you can see the loss of performance. There is always some premium involved in buying quality hardware and doing the research to assemble complementary pieces of hardware together. I'm always glad to pay the hardware premium, knowing that performance will be what I pay for. With Dell, it's a crapshot, sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's horrible. Just saying oh I got Dual Core with 1GB memory and 250GB hard drive for $350 less then you, doesn't make the two machines equal in quality.
Andrea Ratto
2008-05-20 11:18:48
A tax is something you can not avoid. The rest is just supply and demand, just like you say.
Steven Rosenberg
2008-05-20 11:26:02
Desktops are one thing, but for a laptop, having somebody else figure out the power management and wireless networking especially is worth quite a bit. While I imagine that quite a bit of hardware is easy to configure (or auto-configured) in many Linux distros, especially Ubuntu, I usually have to jump through a few hoops before everything is "just right." But the reality is that it can be a whole lot cheaper to buy a $500 laptop from Office Depot, wipe the drive and take your chances.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-05-20 13:54:33
Chromatic: Never assume that a laptop install will be easy. On my venerable Toshiba Ubuntu (or Xubuntu) detected the hardware and installed cleanly for every release from Breezy Badger through Gutsy Gibbon. With the change in the way X is configured (dexconf) on Hardy Heron a clean install of Xubuntu did NOT work as planned. I ended up having to replace the autogenerated xorg.conf file with one I knew worked from Vector Linux. If this had been a new laptop I would have had to research the problem and work out what the correct X settings were -- which could be a very time consuming process.

I also agree with those who say that hardware from company A isn't necessarily the same as on an equivalent laptop from company B. I don't know if the Dell really has inferior hardware or not but it's certainly worth looking into.

2008-05-20 14:25:30
@Caitlyn, I suggested one hour for the install as a best case scenario. You're right; it's very possible that the installation would have taken much more time, eating into that five hour window.
2008-05-27 14:14:09
Information Week is now converting your blog comments into feature articles.


2008-05-29 16:26:50
I bought a Dell...definitely not loaded with Ubuntu, but with Vista...but in buying it I made sure I had hardware that would work with Ubuntu and that it had all the bells and whistles I wanted.

I had already found out on a Dell Desktop the Ubuntu worked, so when the M1530 arrived I had the 64 bit Feisty ready to load and everything worked at least as well as the "Vista" did. But when I upgraded it to the new Hardy Heron 64...it just flew and needless to say I dumped "Vista".

I will always buy what I want....then load my favorite distro.

Mark R
2008-05-29 20:26:31
I also have a system 76 laptop purchased at the end of 2006. Every 6 months I back up data onto a DVD. Then I click on the button to upgrade to the newest version of Ubuntu.

So far this has been painless.

2008-05-31 01:29:49
Without taking into account the issue of establishing a stone by God, which he won't be able to pick up, how do you think, may be something in this world, what can God never see?
2008-07-10 09:39:22
Topic is a little old, but just wanted to tell you about my recent purchase: I bought a Dell Inspiron 1525 "Special Edition" at BestBuy (serious sale, couple hundred dollars off list - I guess folks aren't going to BB to buy Dell hardware). It came with Vista preinstalled, but I had a secret weapon - the knowledge that Dell makes the .ISO for the recovery disc available for download (without closed-source elements. like certain codecs). Upside? *Nearly* all the hardware worked right off the bat. My WiFi wasn't supported, but rather than get annoyed, I went to Dell and bought the supported WiFi card (an Intel part) and the Bluetooth module as well for about $50.

That is another option for users that want Dell hardware with Ubuntu support *and* want a convienient install.

(sadly, I flattened the Ubuntu install recently to reinstall Vista, but every feature worked right off the bat - save the WiFi card)


2008-08-02 06:08:45
As an old saying goes. It's better to pay the butcher then it is to pay the doctor. Its better to pay for the quality meat and not get sick then to be cheap and have to pay more for it later on and be sick.