I was gladdened yesterday when techbargains.com reported a sale on a new Lenovo ThinkPad R61 running SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop ($552, see below). It's not everyday that you run into a major PC vendor selling machines pre-loaded with Linux (excluding servers).
Perhaps pre-installing Linux will become more popular, in part, due to a Vista backlash. Or, the popularity of Linux of ultra-cheap laptops (where Vista doesn't belong) such as the Asus EEE PC, will lay a foundation for its expansion. Once people see and touch and smell recent editions of Linux, they'll realize it is no more different from Windows XP than is the Mac OSX. And, as Lenovo says, Linux "Eliminates virus and spyware downtime".
I found it interesting though, that on the very page where you order this Linux laptop, Lenovo is in your face about recommending Vista Business and Vista Home Premium.
Theoretically, Linux computers should be cheaper than those running Windows since the manufacturer gets the operating system for free. Indeed, $552 was cheaper than all the other R series ThinkPads at Lenovo.com yesterday, except one. Lenovo was selling an R61e with Windows Vista Home Basic for $536. Both machines have 1GB of RAM, an 80GB hard disk, a CD burner/DVD reader, a one-year warranty and wide screens. The Linux ThinkPad has a 14.1 inch screen, the Vista machine comes with a 15.4 inch screen.
The big issue, to me, with pre-installed copies of Linux is technical support. If Linux support could be offered at a quality level as high as Apple, and at a reasonable cost, then Linux usage would take off. In this case, Lenovo provides Level 1 support. If you don't know what Level 1 means, then perhaps this computer is not for you. At least that's what Lenovo seems to be saying - they don't explain the term and say nothing about Level 2 or 3 support.
If you haven't purchased a computer from Lenovo recently, be aware that their return policy has changed. It used to be great, if you didn't like the machine, simply send it back for a full refund, no questions asked. No more. Their current return policy is:
"Lenovo will accept the return or exchange of a product in its original, sealed package for a full refund in cases of Lenovo error. Returns allowed for any other reason will be subject to a restocking fee equal to 15% of the purchase amount."
Note the word "allowed" in the second sentence. Makes a skeptic wonder what returns they don't allow.
Update May 19, 2008: The day I wrote this, I contacted Lenovo for clarification on the tech support situation. It is now 9 days later and there has been no response from Lenovo.