A thought exercise: Flagship Linux devices

Today’s Microsoft Surface presentation really made my brain start churning.

So, here’s an exercise for you:

  1. Name two flagship Windows devices.
  2. Name two flagship Apple devices
  3. Name two flagship Linux devices.

There are no right or wrong answers, but I think the replies will be interesting and prompt further discussion…

  1. Windows? don’t know, not interested
  2. Apple? don’t care, not interested, wouldn’t pay the premium for an Apple thing
  3. Linux? Probably System-76 (US) or Entroware (UK) but the Pinebook Pro deserves considering

Windows - Surface Pro and Surface Studio (named for innovation), but probably more the Surface Laptop or any flagship laptop

MacOS - MacBook Pro, iMac Pro, Mac Pro
iOS - iPhone 11 Pro and iPad Pro

Linux - System76 Thelios, Dell XPS Developer Edition

I went for extra credit on a couple, but the range for Linux is limited. As I mentioned on another post by Das Geek, I really would love to see a hardware event that promotes Linux flagship hardware. It would help to build hype for it and let people see the OS and its capabilities. Like what Apple did with the Mac Pro, but with the Thelios. I saw many tech podcasts claim Apple was the only company making desktops that powerful, and then I went to System76 and configured one just as powerful, more powerful in some respects.


A lot of Apple’s “powerful” computers can be matched by upper-tier AMD, Intel, and NVidea but at a price. That price is expensive but cheaper than Apple’s. Not that I’ve done it but I’ve seen it on the internet, so it must be true. :grin:

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You are so on point here.

I think once again, it comes down to a fatal weakness in Linux-based marketing.
What if System76 had debuted Thelio to a wider audience? Created a huge spectacle out of it? Sure, they did that to a very narrow selection of Linux enthusiasts and press…

What if they had shown it running Windows, too? That may sound blasphemous to you, but it’s a brilliant machine that should be capturing the attention of a more mainstream enthusiast/business market.

Machines like the Thelio could be a gateway to more people discovering Linux as a viable, modern desktop option. Flip the script: give them the option of having it shipped with Windows, but install Pop OS by default.

I’m just thinking outloud here, but I think you’ve touched a nerve and I want to explore this further.


I’m not sure it would work, the Linux crowd would know, but other folks? “What’s that Linux thing? does it really do Windows OK, fine, give me Windows”

Was is Ryan (DasGeek) that got a used System-76 cheap because it came with Windows? Someone did.

It needs more than just machines out there with Linux on them, it needs awareness of Linux and education about it’s capabilities, advantages and availability.

That would need a body that was distro neutral, (but probably would need to be funded by the big distros), to do the marketing, first at a top level and then once the “public” got the basic idea, to explain the different niches, the different distros and why there are so many Linuxes. That last is the hard part but if they concentrated on the “big boys” as starters and use cases, (gaming, general home, small business, corporate deployments/server farms, cloud, scientific/specialist). People would maybe appreciate why there are so many variants and maybe less confused?

Meh! just thinking off the top of my head (or maybe out my derriere, who knows), it just doesn’t seem as easy as some people seem to think, and it will need money to do.

Hi! for first two (Windows an Apple) I don’t know really and don’t care, maybe Surface Pro and IMac. But, for Linux it is Raspberry Pi4 Pinebook Pro.

(kinda long response)

You are right on some accounts here. You can’t just throw Linux on computers and sell them. You can’t just have an event that the tech-knowledgeable watch and get adoption in the main stream. I think the solution is multifaceted.

  1. You need to have a hardware manufacturer that develops exciting products that people want to buy, that run Linux. Think Dell XPS or HP Spectre x360. Think Surface Pro. I look at System76 as the likely candidate, but their laptop design and manufacture comes from a European company, and the designs do not match the same level that the Dell’s, HP’s, or Lenovos.

  2. This hardware manufacturer should then engage in marketing that promotes not just the new hardware, but what it can do. Like we saw with the Microsoft event, show how creators could use the Thelios to edit movies or music. Maybe throw in a jab that at least it can use nVidia and the Cuda cores that video editors desire, unlike the Mac Pro.

  3. This hardware needs to be available everywhere. I think of my boss as an example. I look online and do a lot of research for the right laptop, with the right features, and Linux compatibility. He looked at a store like Best Buy for a good deal. Having these computers where normal people can try them out and purchase them is key. In addition, you have to have sales people that have enough education to explain the differences and help people make a decision. People will try and ask questions. They should have someone that can enthusiastically answer.

  4. Applications. While Linux has great applications, there always seem to be two big hurdles here, packaging and the community wanting Open Source, and often times free (meaning price here). While we will donate or pay, we are used to software being free, and a lot of people want to develop applications for a living and then make enough money to not just get by, but get rich. Kind of like a business attracting top talent, if you want some of the best in class applications on Linux, we have to be inviting towards this. I can’t say the community is against it entirely, but the promotion of non-proprietary is strong throughout.

Additionally, packaging is different from distro to distro. In the picture I am painting, we would probably have just one main distro to think about since it would be pushed by the hardware manufacturer, but I am thinking a universal app development. Snaps and Flatpaks are great and I want to see that expand, but I am thinking along the lines of PWA’s. While this would not work for all applications, the ones that it would work for could lead to developers making one application and using some code to make it function on all systems. I am not a developer, but this is a high level understanding of how a PWA would work. Linux, and this hardware manufacturer could really promote PWA support for the system.

All of this can apply to Linux on tablets and phones also. Every truly free, Linux OS on tablets and phones always seems to be on older hardware. We need a focus on something that could compete with the power and feature set of the iPad or Surface Pro. Pen support, power, smoothness of operation, etc.

We all know how versatile and great Linux is and can be, but without, as Michael often says, great marketing/promotion around it, and hardware that can sit side-by-side with the current flagships for Apple and every hardware maker of Windows and Android devices, it will be hard to drive greater enthusiasm and adoption from the masses.

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  • 2 Windows Devices: Surface Tablet, and that’s it.
  • 2 Apple Devices: iPad, iPhone
  • 2 Linux Devices: Raspberry Pi 4, and Raspberry Pi Zero W. It was all that spit polish on Raspbian (and the LXDE-based desktop experience) which made it not suck to actually use. Note: Please give your thanks to Simon Long, who deserves huge kudos there.

I invite you to contemplate the number of units actually sold, of the Raspberry Pis, and then think of how many Linux-pre-installed units outfits like System76 and Dell has actually sold. Raspberry Pi blows them away in units sold (although who made more profits on said units? Not sure, but probably Raspberry Pi).

Thus I consider the Raspberry Pis to be the true flagship devices of the Linux world, for number of actual customers holding a piece of strongly Linux-specific quality hardware in their hands.

Windows: Surface Pro X and Surface Neo
Apple: Macbook Pro, iPhone 11 Pro
Linux: System76 Oryx Pro, Star Labs Labtop, Raspberry Pi 4, Librem 15, Librem 5, Entroware Poseidon, Raspberry Pi Zero W, System76 Thelio, Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, Tesla Model S…
Oh, only two? I was just going off the top of my head.

Such an odd thing to see written. I think Microsoft has strong opinions on this but otherwise it’s going to be personal preference. The fact that the question is being asked is, in and of itself, a strange concept.

I’ll say the same is true on the Linux side. Certainly, buying something that provides guaranteed compatibility with Linux on what is considered high-end hardware could be considered flagship but very little of that hardware is purpose-built for Linux. It just happens to be supported. I’ve seen open hardware initiatives from many companies but have any managed to pull off an entirely open hardware system? I don’t think it’s possible or, at the very least, would be immensely expensive to achieve.

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I’m just nodding my head furiously over here. Listen to this for a couple minutes after the linked timestamp:

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It’s a very interesting concept. I’ve grown so accustomed to Linux always being run on generic PC hardware that it has become entirely a software concern in my mind. The idea that hardware would play a part in my thought process opens a new dimension.

I do wonder how we bridge the gap of Linux being seen as a replacement for the aging, unsupported OS that came with a now old computer to being the choice on a new, bespoke system. It’s not universal but I do see this as one of the more common “benefits” or use cases for why someone would choose Linux. I also see this in practice almost daily where people talk about buying a “new” system and it means a used Thinkpad on eBay. That’s not meant to be a criticism but it makes me wonder how much traction any company is going to get offering high-end systems to a user base that doesn’t see the need for it.

This touches on a separate discussion that came up a few weeks ago, just before the Ubuntu Betas were released, where it seems that newer hardware is a bit of a gray area for developers and testers. My perception is that many of them don’t have the latest processors, video cards, 4k monitors and so on. This seems to lead to a gap in optimization for newer hardware. I have no hard evidence to support this claim and it’s not meant to be a sweeping generalization. With the recent focus on gaming on Linux and the advances we’ve seen, perhaps this is an area where a company can provide high-end gaming systems that are optimized for cutting-edge hardware. We’ve seen System76 do amazing things with Pop_OS! in terms of optimization for their hardware. I’m not advocating yet another distro but maybe this leads to collaboration with existing projects where the hardware manufacturer provides equipment for development and testing so that the optimization can take place. It’s all just a thought exercise but seems plausible. Maybe?


There’s often no further to look for a reason than the financial. It’s like buying new or a used car, you drive a new car off the lot and becomes a used car… with a hefty chunk off it’s market value.

This warrants its own thread, honestly.

I can tell you that, for example, the Budgie team only has one 4K monitor between them, and I doubt they have the latest and greatest CPUs and GPUs to test with.

Makes me wish I had the time to contribute in that regard.

tl;dr: These guys need donations from the community or loaners/gifts from the Intels, AMDs and Nvidias of the world.

1: Nokia Lumia 630 & Xbox One S :joy:
2: iPhone & Macbook
3: BYOB. I know people are saying Sys76, but Pinebook devices, the Raspberry Pi, the majority of the worlds’ servers & smartphones all run Linux distros as well.

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This reminds me of a popular PC magazine years ago, I forget which one, that ran a laptop test to see which laptop was the fastest on the latest version of windows. The laptop that won that contest? A MacBook Pro.

I’ve thought about this somewhat, for a long time now. Here are my thoughts:

As you probably know, the big giant rich tech corporations who can afford to create exotic hardware of their own imagining, then also afford to develop software for it gain a huge advantage, called the “first mover advantage”.

I suggest you think over the “first mover advantage” more, and put it on the center of the table, in this discussion, about what actually could really propel Linux into being a flagship-something-or-other in the world, not just a late-arriving-to-the-party attempt at a big piece of the market pie in the computer world.

Apple is big into having a first mover advantage. And they are the richest corporation on planet Earth. Google too can afford to develop it’s own hardware (Chromebook, Android Pixel phones, etc.), then the software as well (ChromeOS, Android, and all the tightly-bundled Android apps like the Google Play Store, Chrome browser, Youtube, etc). Alphabet/Google is number 4 on that list. So I say “first mover advantage” really, really matters in the computer world.

Ever wonder why the Windows dominance on the desktop is so hard for the Linux world to overtake (despite the technical superiority of Linux in so many ways)? Because Microsoft had the first mover advantage, when it came to the cheap desktop computer market (as in, Windows PC’s didn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars, like the UNIX workstations they overtook, plus they were considerably cheaper than Apple computers).

Do we see any successful examples of this sort of “first mover advantage” in the Linux world? I can think of one (albeit a much smaller example): the Raspberry Pi, with it’s ground-breaking GPIO pins being really, really cheap (and now really easy to develop for as well, with Python’s highly convenient GPIO-specific libraries, called “GPIO Zero”).

GPIO PCI cards were relatively expensive before the Raspberry Pi ever came along. So for the Raspberry Pi to make GPIO cheap for the masses is a little bit akin to Microsoft making a much, much more affordable home PC.

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Maybe another example of a “first mover advantage” in the Linux world would be System76’s two new laptops which have (partially) Open Source Firmware. They seem to be the first ones to sell Open Source firmware (Coreboot) pre-installed on brand new, modern, powerful laptops.

@JasonEvangelho, I would suggest these two laptops, the System76 Galago Pro and Darter Pro, fit the spirit of your OP well, as “flagship Linux devices”.

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