Saturday, November 23, 2013

Open your wallet and bring your buying power to open source

Find out why Jack Wallen finally bit the bullet and paid a premium price for a desktop machine with pre-installed Linux. He suggests that you also bring your buying power to open source.

Open source

I've been writing about Linux and open source for nearly 20 years. In that time, a good number of desktops and laptops have graced my office. Some of those desktops were hand-built by me, and some were purchased from big-box stores. Embarrassingly, it's taken me this long to bite the bullet and purchase a desktop machine with Linux pre-installed.
Why has it take me nearly 20 years? At first, it was a matter of cost. If you've shopped around for such a machine, you know that it can be cost prohibitive. There's a reason for that -- the companies that sell pre-installed Linux machines tend to be smaller shops, so they don't have the ability to offer the rock-bottom discounted prices that the likes of Lenovo, Dell, and HP offer. But let's get one thing straight -- nearly all of those big brands are using ODM parts to piece together their machines. So, in the end, you're just paying someone who can purchase ODM components in serious bulk, slap them together, and offer you the end results at high discounts.

The likes of System76 and ZaReason can't compete with those manufacturers. To that end, their machines are a bit higher in price. The trade off is that they customize the machine to your specs, support open source, and... just work.

Early in my career, I simply couldn't afford such a computer. No matter how badly I wanted to support the cause and help keep the lights on at these resellers, it just wasn't in the cards. Later, a sense of pride crashed the party, because having the ability to piece my own machines together meant I could hand-pick every component, and I knew the machine would perform to expectations. Eventually, pride gave way to convenience, and I resorted back to the name brands and big-box stores for my computer purchases.

That brings us to now. My Lenovo recently died (after just over a year). I could have warrantied the machine, but I know the challenges inherent with accomplishing such a feat: Endless phone menus and  hoop jumping (just to prove that there is, in fact, a reason why my machine would only stay on for minutes -- after replacing nearly every component in the machine). So, when I finally accepted my fate, I had the decision narrowed down to three solutions:
  • Buy an iMac
  • Run to the big-box store
  • Finally put my money where my big mouth has been for years
Over the course of a weekend, I weeded out the iMac and had my browser open with two specific tabs -- and I was looking at two very different machines:
  • Asus M51AC-B07
  • System76 Leopard Extreme 4
The latter machine is nearly twice the price of the former. That's right, twice. The specs of both machines are solid:
  • Asus: 4th gen Intel i7, 16 GB RAM, 2 TB hard drive
  • Leopard Extreme 4: 4th gen Intel i7, 8 GB RAM, SSD
The difference between the machines comes when you start digging into the details. First and foremost, the Leopard is water cooled, so it's perfectly silent (a big plus for a machine that will be primarily used for audio recording). The System76 system also has Quad Channel RAM and an SSD to give it a serious performance increase. Another big bonus is that you can configure the Leopard exactly how you want it -- more RAM, bigger SSD, optical drive, etc. The icing on the cake is that the Leopard comes tested and pre-installed with Ubuntu 13.10.

For me, that icing was the real deal maker, even though that icing might be adding to the cost in the end. The final result was a Leopard Extreme 4 with an extra 8 GB of RAM for just under $2,000.00 (USD). High? Yes. Worth it? Well, the machine has yet to arrive, but System76 has been giving me updates on the status (it's now on the way to me). When the desktop machine finally arrives, I'll immediately put it through the paces and report back with my impression.

Ultimately, the final decision came down to purchasing a machine that would avoid the headache of unsupported hardware. Although hardware support is less and less of an issue, there are instances (such as with the Lenovo's on-board sound chip), that can cause you to pull your hair out. Companies like System76 help you to circumvent that issue by ensuring every piece of hardware works with the installed OS and that, upon first boot, the end user should have nothing but a grand experience.

To me, that alone is worth the price of admission. No, you don't have to spend $2,000.00 on a liquid-cooled desktop like I did. Of course, if you want some serious bragging rights, why not go with the most powerful Linux pre-installed machine on the planet? Or you could find yourself with a nice System76 desktop starting at $699.00 that's pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux. With any machine you purchase, you also get a year of support (or you can purchase two to three years). That support is key. Why? Because when you have an issue, you pick up the phone or send an email and you know you'll actually speak to a person who gets your platform of choice. You'll no longer have to deal with hearing "I'm sorry, but we don't support that operating system." Or worse, you won't have to worry that -- by removing Windows and installing Linux -- you've voided the warranty on that machine. And, ultimately, you know your dollars went to help support a company that supports open source.

Thankfully, companies like System76 and ZaReason exist so that people like me and you can avoid the continued payment of “Windows tax” and poor support of larger companies. Of course, there's another issue that's plagued Linux and open source from the beginning, and that's the scores of end users who simply refuse to pay for anything. To those people, I say this -- if you really, really want Linux and open source to grow, you have to be ready to support the cause with more than just waving a penguin power flag. It's time to crack open that rusty wallet and bring your buying power to open source.