More Linux distributions are starting to see the benefit of selling branded laptops. Jack Wallen sees this as a win-win for all involved.

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About two years ago, a young man began a small business, called Juno Computers. The purpose of that business was to sell laptops with elementary OS pre-installed. He has since shifted over to selling laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed. Why the change? I do not know. But the intention of the store hinted at something I believe we’ll see much more of in the future. 

Said something is the rise of the Linux distribution-specific laptop.

We’re already seeing more of this. We have the KDE Slimbook (KDE), Kubuntu Focus (Kubuntu), Purism Librem (PureOS), the Dell XPS Developer edition (Ubuntu), all of the System76 laptops (Pop!_OS), Penguin M3 (Linux Mint), Huawei Matebook (with Deepin Linux), Pinebook (Debian), and Tuxedo Red (which will soon be sold with Manjaro Linux). That list continues to grow.

This rise of the distribution-specific laptop is an important one for Linux as a whole. But more than that, it’s a crucial step forward for Linux distributions. 

Why? Let me explain.

SEE: How to choose between Windows, macOS, and Linux (TechRepublic download)

Marketing

One of the single weakest aspects of desktop Linux is marketing. This is bar none, hands down, the Achilles’ heel for the open source desktop. And it’s not just Linux on the desktop, it’s Linux as a whole.

Marketing is a massive challenge. In this day and age of social media, one would think marketing to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Even with a massive audience available, one that is free to use for anyone, it’s become nearly impossible to use as a tool for marketing. 

Consider this: Spend a bit of time watching your Twitter feed. In the blink of an eye another thousand tweets were posted, sending whatever it was you were looking for down the Twitterverse drain. And unless what you were looking for used a specific hashtag, or was posted someone you follow, chances of finding that tweet are slim–though not impossible. 

And with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and company have made it such that very few people see what you post, even if you purchase an ad.

So marketing is already set at an unreasonably high bar. When you’re a Linux distribution, that bar becomes even higher. Why? Because the average computer user has no idea what Linux is, so they aren’t searching you out. And when they do see your tweet or Facebook post, they let it scroll by. 

They don’t care if your distribution is more secure and reliable than Windows. They don’t care that your operating system is free. Nor do they care that there are thousands upon thousands of free applications to be installed.

However, what they would care about is that fancy laptop, sold at a reasonable price. You see, consumers respond much better to tangible goods than they do ideals and something that requires them to do more work. In other words, the likelihood of winning over a Linux user is much greater when all they have to do is purchase a laptop, power it up, and create a user. 

That’s marketable. That’s something users can get excited about and Linux distributions are starting to see this new world order.

As they should.

Out of the shadows

No matter many times myself and other writers attempt to spread the word, the word flails about in a vacuum, only to be heard by a choir that’s heard the same sermon for years. So how do distributions get any sort of visibility? No matter how incredible Pop!_OS or elementary OS are, they tend to be known by either those who purchase System76 hardware (for Pop!_OS), or those who already know and use Linux for both.

They’re stuck in the shadows.

Hardware can help them. It’s not only that physical product that can be purchased, it’s branding. Branding has eluded Linux for a long time. For instance, take a Linux-specific group I belong to (which shall remain nameless)–the group consists of some of the best people in this particular industry and they are doing amazing things. But even with the group creating serious magic, they have yet to come up with any sort of branding material. Why? It’s not an easy task. Logos, catch phrases, tag lines, and so on–so much to do.

And yes, it all goes back to marketing. Marketing a distribution is challenging, especially when so many distributions have the same intentions and are based on the same foundation (Debian). However, you add a distribution-specific laptop into the mix and you have something that is far easier to market. It’s also easier to get people excited about your product.

Because of this, creating their own brand-specific laptop should be on the radar of every single Linux distribution on the market. elementary OS needs to get back into this game. Fedora, Budgie, Bhodi, openSUSE, Peppermint, Solus, Zorin, PCLinuxOS–all of the major, as well as the minor, players in the field need to jump on board this wagon before it’s out of reach. 

A secondary benefit 

There’s one more benefit that can be had with distributions selling their branded laptops: Money. This is an opportunity for distributions to create another revenue stream, outside of donations. Granted distributions would probably get only a very small percentage of the money for each item sold sent their way. But, correct me if I’m wrong, some is better than none.

In the end, this should be considered a win-win for distributions. Better branding opportunities, another revenue stream, and people using their software. For those reasons alone, every distribution should be scrambling to make their way into the Clevo queues to get that hardware built and ready for OS installation. 

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