If you are interested in adding the Linux operating system to your small business IT arsenal, you might wonder where on Earth to buy Linux computers? You can always download Linux for free and install it yourself, but that's not always the best option, because you have a business to run and can't spend your time herding computers.
You probably won't find Linux computers on the shelves of your local stores, because most Linux computer vendors are independent shops, don't have big advertising budgets, and they don't get media attention like Apple and Microsoft. But there are a lot of good Linux vendors who build great systems and treat their customers well. In this roundup I'll introduce you to five of the best.
Which Version of Linux?
There are literally hundreds of different versions of the Linux operating system, from tiny embedded automotive and robotics systems, to nearly all of the Top 500 supercomputers. These are called distributions, because each one is a customized bundle that includes the operating system and productivity software, and they are freely distributed over the Internet. Most are free of cost, and there is also a nice assortment of commercial Linuxes tailored for the enterprise.
So how do you know which one to choose? I recommend Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE, or Ubuntu Linux, because these are all popular first-rate enterprise Linuxes that offer business services and commercial support options.
Now, let's take a look a selection of vendors where you can purchase Linux-based systems for your small business.
5 Reliable Small Business Linux Vendors
ZaReason is a family business based in Berkeley, California. Its founders are CEO Cathy Malmrose and CTO Earl Malmrose, and their son Kory is a part-time employee. The Malmroses have plans to open shops worldwide, and their first overseas store opens soon in Wellington, New Zealand.
Figure 1: ZaReason's Zima 930 all-in-one PC.
ZaReason offers a good line of laptops, desktops, tower and rack servers, and the ZaTab tablet computer. If they don't stock what you want, just ask for your own customizations. ZaReason supports multiple Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, and Fedora.
ZaReason is much more than just an assembler of off-the-shelf components: they do a significant amount of their own engineering and design. Everything they sell is built with good-quality hardware. They don't spec systems to the absolute cheapest minimum; their products are stout and reliable.
They also use hardware with open specifications, so you won't run into any of the annoying proprietary roadblocks so beloved of the big-name vendors, such as low-budget graphics or networking chips that require Windows drivers. Your ZaReason computers can be re-purposed to run any operating system with no licensing or technical hassles. Every ZaReason computer just works, and the company offers excellent support.
System76 also offers a well-engineered line of Linux laptops, desktops, and servers suitable for powering a small business. System76 specializes in Ubuntu Linux, and you can purchase Ubuntu add-ons and support services through System76.
Figure 2: The powerful 17.3-inch Bonobo Extreme from System 76.
Emperor Linux has been around since 1999, which is a long time when you consider that the first, very immature version of Linux was released into the world in 1991. Emperor Linux specializes in Linux laptops and tablets, from very small to very large. Its Raven tablet includes handwriting recognition, pressure sensitivity for graphics applications, biometric fingerprint scanner, and dynamic rotation.
They support a full line of Panasonic Toughbooks, which are ruggedized to U.S. military standards. These systems range from the tiny Ant with a 5.6-inch screen and all-day battery life, to the Tarantula, a full-size laptop with all the bells and whistles.
Figure 3: The rugged ToughBook.
The BlackPerl ultra-portable is a customized Sony Vaio notebook with a 13.1-inch screen and quad-core Intel CPU, weighing in at a mere 2.6 pounds. The company's largest laptop, the Rhino, is a great desktop replacement. The Rhino is available with a 17.3-inch screen, Intel quad-core processor, 750GB solid-state hard drive and a DVD/Blue-Ray optical drive.
Emperor Linux will install its own Emperor Linux distribution, which is a customized version of Fedora 16, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, OpenSUSE, Slackware, Debian, CentOS, or Ubuntu.
Unlike most Linux computer vendors, Emperor will also set up a dual-boot Linux and Windows system for you. Most Linux vendors avoid Windows because it is expensive to set up the necessary infrastructure to manage Windows software licenses.
ERacks Open Source Systems
ERacks Open Source Systems sells a giant range of Linux systems: customized rackmount servers, network and storage servers, firewalls, cloud systems, high-performance laptops, and powerful audio and video production computers stuffed with the best multimedia software open source has to offer. eRacks also offers a useful range of consulting services such as network design, migrating to your new open source servers, and hosting services.
Figure 4: The eRacks RenderBlade.
You can buy directly from eRacks, or visit its Amazon store. eRacks is good choice when you have more demanding, mission-critical needs, or when you need to scale up to larger servers.
Pogo Linux is another old-time Linux OEM that has been around since the last millennium. Pogo offers a complete line of desktops, workstations, blade, rack, and tower servers, network-attached storage, managed storage, high-performance cluster servers, and hosted cloud services.
Figure 5: The quiet, powerful Pogo Velocity D56SQ Workstation.
Pogo supports a variety of Linux distributions, and it also supports Microsoft Windows and several flavors of Unix.
But that's not all. Here are few more Linux vendors for your consideration:
Linux Certified sells Linux laptops, and Linux training for IT professionals.
Puget Systems has Linux laptops, desktops, and servers.
Penguin Computing supplies rackmount and towers servers, network storage, clusters, and high-performance computing.
Los Alamos Computers specializes in Linux on good Lenovo desktops and laptops.
To sum up, there are a lot of good places to buy Linux computers and to get expert help with designing your IT operations.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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