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Linux-Compatible Computer

Jul 27, 1999, 13:19 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Hseu)

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Contributed by Linux Today reader Jonathan Hseu

Many users recently installing Linux or who have added new hardware realize that the foremost problem preventing rapid expansion of widespread use of Linux is hardware compatibility. In a market where Microsoft Operating Systems have now become standard, computer and hardware manufacturers seem to only believe in supporting that specific software and nothing else. Despite rapidly growing demand for Linux compatible hardware, companies ignore massive amounts of e-mails asking for information regarding information on their drivers required to port it. I propose that we as a community refuse to buy anything that manufacturers will allow to be monopolized.

Ignoring an entire community is inacceptable. Hardware companies create drivers to interface their hardware with the OS. The problem is: a majority of them only create these drivers for Windows. This alone is satisfactory, but along with that, they refuse to divulge information regarding the source code and hardware specifications required to port this hardware. The latest example is ATI's new chipset, RAGE 128, which has already grown quite popular. Upon viewing messages on, I found many who had problems getting graphics boards with this chipset to work with XFree86. There was, however, a workaround which involved less than maximum resolution and refresh rates and did not support the new features the chipset had to offer.

By having a growing group of people not purchase that which is incompatible, companies are forced to make their hardware compatible. Before buying a computer that does not have Linux pre-installed, most experienced users check a hardware compatibility list searching for the specific hardware chosen by the computer vendor. This would all be unnecessary if the manufacturer labeled the computer "Linux-compatible". Having this label, or one similar to it, would mean that current versions of free software that come with distributions of Linux are fully compatible with the hardware. Installation can be accomplished smoothly for those new to the environment.

Soon after thousands of users demand compatible hardware, companies would take seriously the market which they view is too small to spend money on. Too often do we see inexperienced computer users wishing to switch operating systems, and even buying new computers for them, find soon after that they cannot have the features they originally had in Windows. Being frustrated and blaming the community for slow adaption rather than where rightful blame should be placed, they switch back to their old operating system, downgrade or buy new hardware, or settle for a soundcard/videocard that does not work.

Big manufacturers, such as IBM and Dell, have already begun to sell Linux and Unix systems, but they must be specially made. We currently do not see any Dell Dimensions that include Linux as an option. There is no problem with that, as long as those "Dimensions" are Linux-compatible.

This can be compared to when, long ago, IBM was the "top-dog". Other computer manufacturers began making computers IBM-compatible and gained a good share of the market. The Linux market can grow considerably given that hardware companies cooperate. Since there is currently no "Open Hardware" movement, we cannot control compatibility through what we can create. We can control what we buy.