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The Real Lenovo Laptop Deal

Blank Disk, No Linux Pre-Loaded

  • August 16, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

The new "Linux-enabled" Lenovo laptop launched this week at LinuxWorld will not actually come "pre-loaded" with Novell SUSE Linux, a high-ranking Lenovo official said today, contradicting some industry reports stating otherwise.

Together with Novell and Intel, Lenovo formally unveiled the new PC at a press conference on Tuesday, following months of industry speculation about an impending Linux announcement from the mobile PC maker.

In an interview with LinuxPlanet, Rajat Aggarwal, Lenovo's worldwide product manager for ThinkPad T Series, said that Lenovo will sell the new T60p laptop both on its Web site and through its direct and indirect sales channels.

All of Lenovo's distribution partners will be in on the T60p action, include D&H, a new distributor just signed this week, according to Aggarwal.

"But we are not pre-loading it with Linux," he told LinuxPlanet.

Still, Lenovo will be breaking new ground with the level of support given to Linux by a major laptop manufacturer, according to the worldwide product manager.

Aggarwal maintained that Lenovo will be the first mobile PC maker to provide full phone support for a Linux laptop.

Moreover, all Linux drivers needed for the T60p will be downloadable directly from Lenovo's Web site.

But he told LinuxPlanet that the T60p--an inch-thin, 4.7-pound laptop based on Intel's Centrino Duo processing technology--will be sold with a "blank hard disk."

Offered in both 14- and 15-inch models, the T60p will be enabled to run Novell's recently released SLED [SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop] 10 OS.

The PC will also come with several of Lenovo's ThinkVantage Technologies (TFTs) including the ThinkPad Configuration Utility, Access Connections, and Power Manager.

Yet users wanting to operate Linux on the laptop will also need to purchase SLED software licensing from Novell, either via Novell's Web site or a reseller, according to Aggarwal.

With licensing in hand, they can then download the drivers and TFTs from SLED's Web site.

And, if they need to, the Linux laptop users can obtain full phone support around driver installation, TFTs, and basic Linux configuration and hardware issues.

Novell, on the other hand, will provide tech support around any SLED 10 issues. "Generally, customers will get this directly from Novell," Aggarwal said.

But among calls coming into Lenovo's call center, Lenovo will also escalate SLED-related level four support questions--namely, the toughest ones about SLED to answer--to Novell's support team.

Although details of Lenovo's announcement might run counter to some expectations, few in the industry seemed entirely surprised about Lenovo's increasing leadership role in Linux laptop support.

Lenovo, after all, is a spin-off of IBM, a long-time Linux proponent, noted Adam Braunstein, a senior research analyst at the Robert Frances Group, in another interview.

Aggarwal told LinuxPlanet that Lenovo's move with the T60p was driven mainly by requests from Novell and Intel engineers.

"This laptop has been adapted for the engineering work environment," Aggarwal said, pointing to the choice of the Access Connections TFT, for example. "But we feel it will be suitable for [some] other customers, too."

"I'd buy that," Braunstein responded. "This isn't exactly a PC targeted at Joe User, or even at Joe Enterprise. It's a powerful system. And it wouldn't hurt for [the user] to have some experience with Linux, too."

The analyst also pointed to possible channel plays among SMBs such as small engineering and architectural firms.

How does support for the T60p differ from the support accorded to Linux laptops in the past?

"Previously, we've certified Linux distributions on ThinkPad, meaning that we've taken a certain level of Linux and made sure it could run," Aggarwal answered.

Lenovo has given this kind of support to distributions that include Novell, Red Hat, and Turblolinux, he said.

But the phone support and downloadable drivers for Linux are both brand new.

Aggarwal also said that, in situations where SLED is being deployed among multiple users, Lenovo will take an image of the Linux installation and provide it to the customer.

Just why is it, though, that Lenovo won't be pre-installing the OS on individual Linux laptops?

"Among the people who've been asking us for a Linux PC, the drivers and cool TFTs seemed to be a much bigger priority than a pre-installed OS," according to the worldwide product manager.

But Aggarwal indicated, too, that the blank hard drive will give Lenovo a lot more flexibility to support other distributions of Linux, if that decision makes sense to the vendor somewhere down the road.

"There are so many different distributions out there," he said. "But from a clear market perspective, we're supporting the best-of-breed currently available."

Aggarwal told LinuxPlanet that the T760p will be sold into the Linux market only, although Lenovo also sells other PCs, somewhat similar to the T760p, pre-installed with Microsoft OS.

The T760p is priced starting at $3,099 for the 14-inch model and $3,199 for the 15-inch edition--levels that a lot of users won't find cheap, especially when overall laptop pricing is sliding downward.

But Aggarwal said that the lack of pre-installation is really saving customers almost $200 per laptop.

"And these are very high-end PCs," he contended, citing features such as support for up to 4GB of memory, warm and cold docking, and Lenovo's inclusion of the TFTs.

The TFTs are available in the English language only, according to Aggarwal.

But SLED 10, which sells for pricing in the $50 range, is available in all major world languages.

Aside from D&H, the following Lenovo distributors will be offering the Linux-enabled laptop through their reseller channels: Ingram Micro, CDW, Tech Data, Avnet, and Synnex Information Technologies.

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