In When Do You Trade in Your Gibbon for a Heron?, I mentioned that I’m considering upgrading my System76 laptop from Gutsy Gibbon to Hardy Heron. A commenter named Scummy suggested that a similarly configured Dell system is cheaper:
Dude - you just paid a $350 ‘Linux Tax’ by NOT going mainstream in your hardware…
Maybe so, but I think not. It depends on what you value.
Suppose my time is worth $70 an hour. That’s low for a consulting rate, but assume that I’m not busy to capacity. (I do find time to watch Battlestar Galactica.) That $350 represents five hours of work on my part. If buying from System76 saved me five hours of work, the transaction was worthwhile.
I bought this laptop at the end of 2006, before Dell sold pre-installed Ubuntu GNU/Linux to individual customers.
Assume it takes an hour to install Ubuntu, from deciding I want to do it through downloading and burning an installation CD to logging in for the first time. It came preinstalled on my laptop, so there’s one hour of the five. This is the best-case scenario, where all of my hardware works out of the box without customization.
Now suppose that whichever components Dell bought out of someone’s truck in their parking lot the day before they put together that laptop weren’t completely supported by free software drivers. I might have had to upgrade my kernel manually, or set up ndiswrapper, or live without suspend/hibernate support for days, weeks, or months. (An extra two minutes every day of shutting down and rebooting eats up that four hours in six months.)
Do I know I would have had those problems? No. I don’t know that for sure. Has everything on this laptop been perfect? Again, no — but I expect laptops to have problems occasionally, especially as free software evolves at its quick pace. Yet my laptop worked correctly, right out of the box.
Maybe that’s not worth a few hours of work for you. It certainly was for me.