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ZaReason (and Other Independents) Outshine the Big Boys

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Dell, ASUS, Acer, and all the other bandwagoning coattail riders are getting all the headlines for selling desktop Linux preinstalls, especially on this new netbook wave. Sure, having Tier 1 vendors on board means wider exposure for Linux, and for a lot of people more legitimacy. It's exciting and cool, and the price and feature competition is a nice thing.

But let's not forget that these Linux-come-lately party-crashers are very late to the party, and have been whining and foot-dragging and making excuses for years why they couldn't sell Linux PCs, or even bare PCs with no operating systems. If you wanted to buy Linux preinstalled on a computer, you had to find an independent shop. Which wasn't easy, because if they also sold Windows then they were under the eye of Sauron just like the big vendors, and were punished for selling Linux.

I'm still wondering how a software vendor got so much power- in a nutshell OEM vendors were bound by a secret licensing agreement that said "You will sell Windows and no other". If they broke the agreement their Windows distribution license could be revoked, or their license costs raised. You'd think that large companies chock-full of attack lawyers would know better than to agree to such restrictive terms. Perhaps IBM's initial terrible MS-DOS deal, which became the foundation of the Microsoft monopoly and the first Microsoft tax, caused an infection to spread to all of them, and they lost their collective minds.

Anyway, enough about the puzzling antics of professional big-time businesspersons. One way to dodge Sauron is to not sell anything from Redmond. There are a number of excellent independent Linux OEM vendors, and my personal favorite is ZaReason.

ZaReason shows how powerful individuals with a little focus and a lot of "getting it" can be. I read one review (somewhere in the massive flurry of Linux-on-netbooks articles that have all but drowned Linux Today recently) that mentioned how inappropriate it is to see the Windows key on a Linux netbook. The folks at ZaReason figured this out long ago, and replaced the Windows key with an Ubuntu key. Such a simple thing, and yet so cool- and so completely outside the vision of the big shops, because they don't "get it."

ZaReason offers Ubuntu PCs in a wide number of form factors: laptop, desktop, Shuttle, and now their brand-new Atom-based Breeze 3110. This is a sleek, quiet little box that runs on a mere 30 watts. It comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. Now you can call me an old fossil, but it wasn't that long ago that those specs made a PC a muscle car, and you didn't pay any $299, but a lot more.

ZaReason isn't the only excellent Linux OEM vendor, just my favorite. (Hi Cathy and Earl!) My fellow old fossils may recall the glory days of Penguin Computing, when their "Good evening, Mr. Gates, I'll be your server today" and "Born to frag!" ads were the hits of Linux-land. Unfortunately, it seems that Penguin Computing has gone all boring and no longer makes these available; instead they have Webinars and whitepapers and case studies and other dreadful things. But they're still making great Linux computers.

Emperor Linux is another good oldtimer that's still in business. Check out the The Pre-Installed Linux Vendor Database to find more, or to contribute your own entries.

I'm glad that the Windows OEM lock is finally breaking, and some real choice is returning to the PC market. We can thank all those grubby FOSS hippies, because it sure wouldn't have happened if it were left up to those big-time businesspersons.

References

Microsoft's Dirty OEM-Secret

"This is a confidential license, seen only by Microsoft and computer vendors. You and I can't read the license because Microsoft classifies it as a "trade secret." The license specifies that any machine which includes a Microsoft operating system must not also offer a non-Microsoft operating system as a boot option."

Why Microsoft Can't Compete With iTunes

"...while Dell does offer certain machines with Linux, it carefully avoids any actual mention of this, and certainly does not advertise the fact. If Dell did, it would have to pay more for each OEM copy of Windows it shipped, which would be a prohibitively expensive experiment for the company. These rules exist to keep Linux from from gaining market traction."


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