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Linux-Compatible Computer

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.
]

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 searchlinux.com, 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.