Loss Leaders and Linux

By Caitlyn Martin
September 28, 2010 | Comments: 21

emachines.jpgI was doing some cleaning around the room that serves as my home office, going through a bunch of paperwork. I am a bit of a pack rat and I often save things for far too long, as in way past when they would have any value. One of the things I ran across was a receipt dated December, 2009 for the purchase of my current desktop computer. I bought a low-end, small footprint desktop: an eMachines EL-1300G. The cost at a local big box retailer was $159. A friend of mine was so impressed she went to the store right before Christmas to buy one as a gift for her sister. The price had dropped to $149. Of course, the systems came preloaded with Windows. Linux was not an option.

The first thing I did with my system when I got it home was make sure that it powered up and seemed to work. The second thing I did was wipe the hard drive and load Linux on it: a 64-bit build of SalixOS. Installation was absolutely straightforward and everything just worked. There is no technical reason this system couldn't be offered preloaded with Linux. (Note: I did not try the old fashioned dial-up modem. I guess some people with low end systems still use dial-up, or did in 2009.)

Most of the reviews of the eMachines EL-1300G were pretty negative, citing low specs and relatively poor performance. The one thing all the reviewers have in common is that they tested the systems with the supplied Windows operating system. My friend confirmed that the system she bought for her sister is pretty darned slow with the supplied 2GB of RAM running Windows Vista. She's planning on a memory upgrade to 4GB as a gift for this year. My system running Linux has always seemed blazing fast to me, even before I did my own memory upgrade. This is certainly true when compared to my HP Mini 110 netbook which is also running SalixOS. I do push my systems to the limit and poor performance would be an issue.

As I wrote last year, Windows is just not suited to netbooks and other low-end systems. While the 64-bit 1.6GHz AMD Athlon 2650e processor is significantly faster for many tasks than the 32-bit 1.6GHZ Intel Atom N270 processor in my netbook it still isn't exactly a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination. Windows Vista and Windows 7 are just too resource hungry to be good choices for such a system. Running Linux, particularly a 64-it distribution designed to be lightweight like SalixOS, allows me to get very good performance indeed. This is also true for the 32-bit build on my netbook. Despite this stores and most manufacturers continue to offer Windows only and consumers suffer with the results.

This also highlights what I believe to be the single biggest factor which limits widespread adoption of Linux on the consumer desktop: the lack of preloaded systems in retail stores. Yes, you can order a system with Linux preloaded from Dell or from Linux boutique vendors like System76, ZaReason or LinPC.us and that probably has helped with the growth of Linux desktop market share a little. However, until Linux systems are available side by side with Windows systems and are price competitive with Windows systems, including loss leaders, I don't see how Microsoft's hold on at least 80% of the market is going to be broken. This is particularly galling when systems that are sold with Windows perform so poorly when compared with the same system running Linux.

Oh, and yes, I'm very happy with the little eMachines desktop and I feel I certainly got my money's worth.

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Here in Spain you can purchase emachines pcs with Ubuntu Linux preload.

Check-out at emachines.es

Excellent! Thank you for sharing that information. Now if we can only convince Acer (who owns eMachines) to do the same in North America...

I also notice they are offering the EL-1300 preloaded with Ubuntu. No wonder it works so well with Linux :)

But who wants Ubuntu if he can have Salix? :-D

Thanks for making me laugh. I reviewed SalixOS for DistroWatch last month and it is definitely not for everyone. A newcomer to Linux would find it more difficult to setup and install, for example.

Having said that, if SalixOS was preloaded I don't think it is actually any harder to maintain than Ubuntu. It is a bit more like Xubuntu or Lubuntu (Xfce or LXDE default desktops) and that may also not appeal to newcomers. For low end systems, though, it consumes far less memory for the basic desktop than Ubuntu and less than Xubuntu and Lubuntu as well. It will outperform any of the Ubuntu variants I've tried and for those of us with systems on the low end who push them to the limits SalixOS is a sensible choice.

Linux is not one size fits all. Which distribution makes sense is really a matter of what you are going to do with it and what hardware you are running it on.

I recently bought a new computer, an Acer Aspire M3300, with an Athlon-2 X4 processor and a 750 GB hard drive, pre-loaded with Windows 7. When I got it home, I opened it up, installed the 300 GB drive from my old, dead Pentium 4 computer, moved the power and data cables from the 750 to the 300, plugged in power, video, mouse and keyboard cables, pressed the "on" button and crossed my fingers.

It worked. Linux Mint 9 loaded and ran, and is still running. Does this count as a brain transplant?

Win7 lives on, still on the disconnected 750 GB drive. Of course, this counts as a Windows purchase in the statistics.

Did you try to get a refund on Windows?

Sometimes it's an uphill struggle, but worth it just to get the message across!

No. It honestly isn't worth the time and effort for me to get literally just a few dollars. I understand the value of sending a message. I also understand the value of my time and I honestly feel I have better ways to do Linux advocacy that are more effective.

hi, glad you are happy with your machine.
i understand that it's true windows is a resource hog for sure
i,m a tech by trade and see this far to often.

i bought my laptop here a toshiba satellite l305 series
intel celeron 2.2gig cpu 2gig ram. with vista basic preinstalled took it home made sure all works like it should then wiped the 160gig hdd install ubuntu 9.04 upgraded to 9.10 to 10.04lts that's currently running. and had no issues far as performance. i don't mis windows at all even tho this machine was counted as winderz. and i agree we need to have linux machines next to the winderz and apple's give folks a choice
and more manufactures and mailorder houses offer it

Help you friend! Don't let them suffer like this :-(

My friend knows Linux. It's my friend's decidedly non-technical sister and husband who are suffering. They don't want something unfamiliar as I understand it. She also doesn't want to do long distance technical support for them particularly if it isn't something they actually want.

People have to want to change. You can't force it on them.

I've been trying to buy a laptop (>= 15") here in Sweden, but it's impossible to find one without Windows preinstalled. (Except Mac:s of cause) I've also asked if I can refund Windows but no dealer or producer accept that. Have even filed a report at the consumer rights org. here (Konsumentverket) but they won't look into it until more people contact them in this issue. The problem is that people on the street does not know there are any alternatives and that they pay 15%-30% of the price for an operating system that they don't need.

Getting the Windows tax refunded is a hassle, and generally not worth the effort (just like mail-in rebates). Every time you go into a computer retailer, ask if they have Linux preloaded on a machine. You'll hear no a lot, but if a good % of Linux community does this simple thing, it'll get back to decision makers.


That is a really good idea. We could also expand the idea to contacting program publishers. If you run across a program that is useful, and they don't have a Linux version, contact them and ask for one.

About 3 years ago i moved from Windows to Linux and i swear i'm not gonna pay any Microsoft-tax. I'll refuse to buy a Windows-computer and later install Linux-disto replacing Windows. No. That new computer must be either installed with Linux-distro or then without any OS. Term of the deal must be that Linux will work on that computer or i'll bring it back. There ain't any other choice.

Apart from having linux preloaded, one element might be interesting in GNUlinux adoption, i.e. GNUlinux being told| written about.
In France, there a daily newspaper called LeMonde, and it generally sends political/economical informations (it shares papers with the NewYork Times on week ends, but it has very short gratis archives -weekly scale-, unlike the NYT- its archive begin in the 1990- ); for years, their journalists were very poor and were likely to have the same feeling as 99% of PC users, who do not know what an OS is... Since one year, they began making good articles about computers, and last week, when the polical and international life seemed less turbulent than useful, there was an interview of Meyer (executive for SW Europe for Red Hat) which was likely to be read.
cf http://www.lemonde.fr/technologies/article/2010/09/30/l-open-source-n-est-pas-un-modele-economique-c-est-un-modele-de-developpement_1417853_651865.html
The ways advantages of OS could be computed were reminded, and Fedora was quoted, both in the commentaries (someone was elogious about it) and by Meyer. The journalist obviously believed UBlinux was linux (like the equation PC=W$7 which is advertised; this is the samme intellectual laziness) , and Mr Meyer was very kind with a substanceless "distribution" (though one reader was upset he did not worship UBUlinux)...
Except Ordissimo (debian based, oriented towards >70 yers old people) no PCs are sold with linux now : those who tried with UBUlinux or Osuse might have given up...
(public relations and being in good terms with PC manufacturers are not enough, as consumers might ask for some substance one can find in Mandriva, Slax derivatives or Red Hats | CentOS prealpha releases such as Fedora)

s/there/there is/
BTW, Microsoft does not seem to go that bad, as they are likely to index (with bing) tons of books from the BNF(google could not)...

Week after week i've able to read about people here in Finland who have bought Windows 7 Starter netbook and now they are crying out how "nothing works". They asked for a help and i've always recommended them to either bring that machine back to shop and take the money or install Ubuntu Remix to make that machine works again. Those who have tried Ubuntu Remix have mostly been happy.

I hope people finally start to realize how painfully useless Windows OS is inside netbook. Just waste of time and money.

Ubuntu has come to a point where it's almost the same experience as buying your computer in the store. Distributions aren't going out of their way to include drivers for wireless dongles. Which is one area we're hurting in. Linksys W54GCUSB v3 don't work on any distribution I've tested. You have to get the ralink driver yourself.

But another failure point is the moving window of support. Some computers are only going to run Ubuntu 8.04. 9.04 was deffinately out of the question. 10.04 was morbidly out of the question. I mean XP got 11 years of support by Microsoft.

You comment about the need to "get the ralink driver yourself" as if this is a failing of Ubuntu or Linux. How is this different from Windows where you often have to either download a driver or get it from a manufacturer's CD? Why is this a problem with Ubuntu when it isn't a problem with Windows?

What computers will run older versions of Ubuntu but not newer? You are aware that Ubuntu 8.04 (an LTS release) is still under support, right? You are also aware that Ubuntu isn't the right Linux distro if you really long term support, right? Ubuntu offers three years support for it's LTS versions. However, Ubuntu is not the only Linux out there.

Red Hat offers seven years of support for it's Enterprise Linux Desktop and the free clones (CentOS, Scientific Linux) also offer seven years of support. Microsoft generally does not offer 11 years of support. The only reason they stuck with XP so long was because their customers rejected Vista and then because Windows 7 runs so poorly on netbooks and nettops. Do you really think seven years isn't long enough?

Finally, most people cannot and will not install an OS on their own. Ubuntu is available preloaded but installing it yourself is no way near equivalent to a preloaded computer.

Linux on low spec PC's and laptops

Could some of the fear and hostility towards linux that has closed comments on some of your other articles also come from hardware manufactures
It is Microsoft and the way that windows installations age and die that drives most of the replacement of working hardware

I like your articles and you do a great job of defeating all the silly and ill-informed posts Thankyou

It is almost impossible to find "net""books" in my little french province town, and I had to buy a new "net""book" which was shipped with seven:
I put all my favorite GNU applications on 7 (Gimp, R, Scilab(it is not GNU!) Octave and {O,?}Office, plus cygwin for my own developments.
The RAM greediness was more than 512 M when it did not do anything , which can be compaired with a Mandriva on an exetrenal USB drive or USB key:
with LXDE, while working, it remained below 300 M, with Gnome, there were sometimes 400 M (tested in both cases with gnomeystemmonitor)...
The peak RAM consumption in 7 was 1875 M (I had put the maximum RAM) for a trivial maintenance operations (Chkdk or FSCk: the MS equivalent of "ps" told me iexplore was doing the huge job : an explorer is, in Windows world, a disk checker?).

A software I wrote (reformatting 20 E6 lines and merging them with their geographical positions) took 1h40mn on Mandriva Linux, and 3h with cygwin (I know cygwin is perhaps 30% slower than mingw, but it is more comfortable: a 1:2 ratio cannot be explained).
In both cases, I tried to have the systems doing only wha they were meant for, and the work was done on the *same* NTFS disk (which was rather in favor of W7, I thought naively)

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