Periodically, the suggestion is made. The latest similar argument – though he does not, in fact, take Apple’s name in vain – comes from Jeremiah Foster in the form of an open letter to Mark Shuttleworth, of Canonical/Ubuntu fame (oh yeah, and Soyuz).
The missive makes the same case I’ve seen and heard elsewhere, though certainly not in this direct a form. Distilled down, the argument runs as follows:
- Supporting an operating system on all hardware platforms is hard
- Supporting an operating system on one platform is easy (relatively speaking)
- Proponents of desktop Linux, therefore, should do the latter (though obviously not at the expense of the former)
In other words, desktop Linux advocates should borrow a card from Apple, whose job is made infinitely easier by virtue of the fact that they only officially support one hardware platform – theirs (and even then they have random shutdowns, melting power cords, and machines running hot enough to fry eggs on).
When I’m asked whether or not I agree with that strategy, I usually hesitate. The short answer is, yes, I think that would pay dividends. It’s absurd to me, as an example, that it’s 2007 and my latest laptop (Thinkpad X60s) suspends to RAM less reliably under Linux than did my last one (Thinkpad X40), although apportioning the responsibility for that particular situation would likely be an exercise in finger-pointing. But it’s difficult to argue that a simplified (and rigorously tested) hardware platform would not yield performance and reliability benefits; that seems obvious to me.
But the long answer is actually: maybe. Not that I see any harm in a software maker and hardware maker trying it – quite the contrary, I’ve recommended as much to both sides of that equation in public and private. That said, however, I think invoking the “Apple card” gives people unreasonable expectations of the kind of integration that could be expected from such a partnership.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that you could get a Canonical to partner with an Acer, as Foster recommends, or perhaps a Dell or Lenovo. That’s all good, and you at least could ensure that users at least had the correct settings for X out of the box. You might, with some work, even be able to get suspend working more reliably than Windows (XP comes back about as frequently as Linux on my current hardware). Noble ambitions both.
But where are you going to get your graphics cards? Last I checked, most of those come from either ATI, Intel, or nVIDIA, and with the exception of Intel they don’t happen to be particularly Linux friendly. And how about sound cards? Or even more critically for certain types of users, embedded wifi/EVDO/UMTS/HSDPA cards ? And let’s not even get into the iPod?
Before the Linux advocates yell “gotcha” and note that every single one of those devices can, in fact, work on Linux, let me say: I know. I’ve had every single one (with the exception of EVDO, which I’ll probably try to get running this weekend) working at one time or another. Most of the above works – to some degree – on my current machine.
None work perfectly, however, and virtually none of them worked out of the box. I’m willing to put up with that in return for the benefits I get working off a Linux desktop; most, however, would not be. The point, as is probably obvious, is that a single partnership here is not likely to suffice. What’s required instead are different hardware vendors perceiving the opportunity that does exist – go see the Dell Ideastorm site to get an idea at least for the enthusiasts market – and collaboratively working together not on an exclusive platform, a la Apple, but a more Linux friendly one. Hand choose the components that are known to work best with the platform, and build from there. It may not get Linux to Apple’s level of just works, but it can’t hurt either.
But let’s acknowledge along the way that it’ll take more than just Canonical and your hardware manufacturer of choice; it’ll require firm commitments and support from a variety of hardware suppliers. Support that’s been difficult to come by to date, despite the fact that it would be a very significant differentiator.
Hmm…maybe it’s time for me to write an open letter to Canonical/Intel/Lenovo 😉