When you, Joe or Mary user, buy a computer at Best Buy or Computer Village or order a computer from Dell or Gateway, you get a computer with a system already installed. Do you think they had any trouble installing that system on that computer? Do you think that if Dell sells Mary a computer with Windows installed and they sell Joe a computer with Linux installed, that Dell had a differentially hard time installing one of those systems compared to the other?
Think about it.
Linux and Windows each have huge capacities in the area of hardware control. People will fight to the end of time about this, but the truth is that both systems have the capacity to run on and use almost all hardware. Windows does not run on Power PC’s and Linux does, and certain novel hardware (like label printers or all in one’s) might have a Windows driver before getting a Linux driver. Also, Linux will actually run on a wider range of hardware than, say, XP or, especially, Vista.
Most hardware manufacturers design drivers for Windows, and only a few design drivers for Linux. But the Linux drivers get designed anyway, tyically just a few months later.
So, given this, one might assume that the engineers at Dell or Gateway or Computertown can throw a Windows system or a Linux system, with impunity, on any old pile of hardware they happen to put together. Right?
Installing a system that will work reliably on a configuration of hardware that you’ve thrown together may be problematic, regardless of if you are using Windows or Linux.
In both cases, there is a pretty complicated relationship between hardware and software. Recently it was discovered that some new Seagate hard drives would not work with Linux because of a strange interaction between the system and the hardware. This got fixed, but it is an example of unexpected results when any redesign (in hardware or software) occurs. I have not installed a windows system in a long time, but in the past I have installed many, and there have been times when I’ve had to swap out hardware to get Windows to install or to work properly. It is quite possible to end up with a system that works, but it turns out that the second parallel port is not really there, or the graphics card is switched to a low power mode, or some other thing is not quite working. And the recurring proverbial unexplainable blue screen of death that happens once a week or two may happen because of something odd going on in the interaction between hardware and software.
A computer is engineered. The hardware is engineered, the software is engineered, and in between the combination of the two is also engineered.
What this means is the following: Almost every desktop computer out there in use by the average person right now that is not a Mac is either running Windows where the engineering was done by Dell or Gateway or somebody … not the end user, or it is a system running Linux where the end user her/his self has had to do the engineering.
Keep that in mind next time you are installing or upgrading a Linux system and you run into some trouble.
Currently, the French distro Mandriva is working with Precedent Technologies to put together a low cost Linux desktop that they will call TechSurfer.
TechSurfer is a web-centric computing platform that is designed for customers who mostly surf the web; download music; and utilize VOIP services, such as Skype. The TechSurfer platform is also suitable for very light desktop productivity applications. TechSurfer is powered by the Intel Atom processor. The Atom Processor was designed especially for web-centric computers. TechSurfer starts at $399.99 with the Mandriva linux OS. Customers can add an additional $100 for Windows XP or Vista.
Dell offers full blown computers with Linux installed, presumably, with the engineering I’m talking about done. And over time we can expect to see a full range of different levels of offerings in between. I think when out of the box Linux computers start to become the default Linux for the average end user, and the engineering issues become backgrounded for Linux like they are now for Windows, that we may start to see more momentum in the direction of Linux to the exclusion of Windows. And, for a special breed of user, we’ll see Linux being chosen over Mac.
More about that later.