November 20, 2012
Selling PCs with Linux preinstalled is hard enough. Doing it without paying attention to the latest hardware trends makes it nigh impossible. That’s probably why two major Linux OEMs, ZaReason and System76, have debuted “all-in-one” (AIO) desktop PCs powered by open source operating systems. Will their initiatives pay off?
In a sense, AIO computers — the kind where the monitor and central hardware are integrated into a single case — go back quite a long time. Many of the old, old Macintoshes used this format, as did machines such as the Commodore PET 2001 (which, despite its name, first debuted in 1977). But the contemporary implementation of the all-in-one PC, exemplified by the modern iMac, is a newer idea.
It’s also one that has been gaining a lot of popularity among consumers, even at a time when traditional PCs have taken a back seat to tablets, smartphones and other devices in the rapidly evolving mobile world. According to DisplaySearch research, sales of AIO computers totaled 14.5 million at the beginning of this year, and could climb as high as 23 million by 2014. Besides Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), a number of other major OEMs, including Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), Lenovo and HP (NYSE: HPQ), have entered this market.
All-in-One Linux PCs
Specialty OEMs ZaReason and System76 also have gotten in on the act this fall, introducing the Zima 930 and Sable Complete PCs, respectively. Both machines combine large LED displays with powerful PC hardware into sleek, polished cases. And most importantly to open source fans, they also both come with Ubuntu Linux installed by default. Other open source operating system choices are available for users who don’t prefer Ubuntu.
Pricing for the ZaReason Zima starts at $899, while the base model of System76’s Sable can be had for $799. Both vendors offer extensive hardware upgrade options that affect the pricing significantly, however, and identifying the best deal depends on what exactly you’re looking for.
Neither of these OEMs can claim to be forging any new hardware paths, since they’re following in the steps of larger PC manufacturers who developed AIO PCs before them. Still, the expansion of ZaReason and System76 into this rapidly growing niche likely will prove important to retaining the loyalty of consumers within the small but established market for PCs with open source operating systems preinstalled.
Meanwhile, these offerings have a lot of potential room to grow as touchscreen software for Linux continues to evolve. Neither the Zima nor the Sable currently provides any hardware touch features — which is unsurprising, since the open source world is still getting a handle on the most efficient ways to make use of touch technology. But as initiatives such as Canonical’s Multitouch mature, opportunities also promise to arise for ZaReason and System76 to lure consumers by integrating touchscreens into their all in one PCs.
This isn’t to say, of course, that touch only makes sense on these devices. On the contrary, it has no shortage of applications on a range of different hardware. But with their large screens and tight hardware integration, all-in-one PCs are the most obvious place for expanding touch on the open source desktop, and OEMs such as ZaReason and System76 could lead the way.
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