I recently received a “review” Dell Vostro laptop from Canonical with Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) installed. The idea was that I, as an illustrious member of the tech press, could see for myself how smoothly the Ubuntu Unity desktop operates. And, it worked!
I quickly figured out the Unity interface and installed Chrome as my browser, installed VLC Media Player, logged into my Hulu account and watched some of my shows, (which I mostly listen to) while simultaneously monitoring Facebook, Gmail, and reading various news sites. It worked well, had a little bit of lag, but nothing overwhelming, and I knew I was asking it to do a lot. The Ubuntu Software Center (now on version 5) was my favorite part. It was as easy as the marketplace on my Droid to just find the software I wanted to install and get it done.
I’ve been thinking of getting an Android tablet computer, but working on the Dell Vostro with Ubuntu 11.10 made me reconsider the purchase. That is, until I figured out I couldn’t buy a Dell Vostro with Ubuntu. Nope, the only way to buy a Dell Vostro is with Windows 7 preloaded… and if I do that, would I really take the time to install Ubuntu instead (or as a dual-boot)? No. Why? Because that’s too much effort. I’m an editor, and I’m not a super-geek. I’m much more like your sister who is savvy enough to deal with glitches on her machine, but who still takes her crashed hard drive in to a professional. And I’m not about to mess with a fully functioning brand new laptop just to install Ubuntu. But I’d buy it (if I could).
But wait! You can buy it. Kind of. What you can buy is a System 76 laptop. Problem is, it’s not a Dell Vostro. And that wouldn’t be a problem except that the price point is a bit different. Here’s the deal – open source isn’t free, as in beer, but it shouldn’t be sold at a microbrew price either. The System 76 laptops with Ubuntu preinstalled that match the screen size of the Dell Vostro with Windows 7 installed are listed at $699. The Vostro with Windows 7 installed starts at $399, and the more beefed-up version is still only $549.
While the tech specs show some notable differences, there isn’t a huge chasm. This is not going to bring on the era of the Linux desktop – except maybe in India and China where you actually can buy a Vostro with Ubuntu installed. Sigh.