Dear Computer Makers: I Want an Ubuntu Notebook!

Published on by Jim Mendenhall

Dear HP, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, ASUS, and Acer,

Ubuntu Notebook

I want to buy an inexpensive, low to medium-end notebook that comes preinstalled with Ubuntu. I want it to have hardware that is supported by the latest Linux kernel so I can put any GNU/Linux distribution on it that I want. I want it to look nice, you know, like all those fancy HP Stream notebooks and Chromebooks that you’re selling. I want it to cost $300 to $450.

I was recently looking for a new notebook computer to take with me on the road, to meetings, and for occasional use around the house. I do most of my compute-intensive work on desktops at home and work, keep most of my media in the cloud, and spend a lot of time connected to remote systems, so I don’t need a high-end notebook. I spent quite a bit of time looking online and couldn’t find a notebook that seemed to meet my needs and have good Linux support. There are systems out there with good Linux support, but I didn’t want to spend $800 to $1600 for a System76 laptop because they were all overkill for what I needed to do (and too expensive).

I could have purchased a Windows notebook and installed Ubuntu, but pretty much everything in my price range was too big and had poor Linux support for at least one major component. I don’t want a notebook that has a low-quality, unsupported WiFi card or trackpad. I don’t want to haul around a heavy, bulky and ugly notebook either. I want something lightweight that looks decent, like an Acer Chromebook or an HP Stream.

I ended up buying another Chromebook, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 with a 13-inch full HD display and 4 GB of RAM … for $330. It’s a pretty nice computer. It looks nice, has a great screen, and reasonable build quality. It’s no Macbook Pro, that’s for sure, but it is also about $1000 cheaper, so I’m pretty forgiving about any minor issues (like some very minor IPS glow on the screen, and the creaking sound the case makes when you push on it). I found that I can do a lot of work on a Chromebook, but I keep wishing that it ran Ubuntu instead of Chrome OS. I know that I can “install” Ubuntu inside of Chrome OS with Crouton, but I’d really just like a system that I don’t have to fuss with, hack, or put into “developer mode” — something that just runs Ubuntu out of the box.

Here’s the thing: I know you can do it!

Dell Ubuntu China

Most of you already sell Linux computers in other countries (and Linux based Chromebooks in the US and UK). HP and Dell already sell Ubuntu notebooks in China. Dell, HP, Acer and Packard Bell all sell Linux notebooks in Russian online and retail stores. Linux notebooks are sold in India, Ukraine, Brazil, etc. You allow consumers in other countries to buy your notebooks with Linux, why can’t you sell me one here in America?

So, what exactly does this notebook that I want to buy look like? How is it different from your current offerings? Well, quite honestly, you’re already 98% of the way there. Here’s what you need to do to make a great Ubuntu notebook that I would rush out to buy today:

  1. Take one of your existing Chromebook or Stream notebook designs.
  2. Replace any Linux-unfriendly hardware (Wifi cards, trackpads, etc).
  3. Configure it with at least a 32 GB SSD and 4 GB of RAM.
  4. Install Ubuntu.

For bonus points, let consumers configure these laptops with a Core i3 processor or bigger SSDs. For extra bonus points, make an orange and purple version!

Now, I realize that for a notebook with slightly higher specs than a Chromebook, I’ll need to pay more than the $150 to $350 that you currently charge for Chromebooks and low-end Windows computers. These Ubuntu notebooks probably won’t sell as many units as Chromebooks either, so you might need to charge more. That’s okay, I’m willing to pay a small premium. I’d gladly pay $300 to $450 for one of these notebooks. In fact, the first Dell computer I ever bought was a Dell Inspiron 1420N with Ubuntu … just in case you don’t think people like me will put our money where our mouths are.

Jim Mendenhall