I 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.