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System 76 – Ubuntu Linux desktops made to order

By: 7 November 2011 2 Comments

The System 76 Ratel Ultra, starting at $589.

How do most Linux users wind up with the operating system?

For a lot of us, the process is pretty straightforward — take a Microsoft Windows-powered system, do some research, download a Linux distribution and install it. If all goes well, you’ll have a new OS that is configured well and ready to roll. There are times, of course, when all does not go smoothly, leaving the operator to figure out how to configure hardware, why graphical glitches are present, etc. Bear in mind that communities spring up around Linux distros and those are full of people willing to help folks struggling with various problems. Those groups are a wealth of information and anyone dealing with Linux should get acquainted with a forum or two.

Carl Richell, chief executive officer of Denver-based System 76, said his company — which celebrated it’s sixth birthday on Monday (Nov. 7) — was formed to provide fully-configured computers running Ubuntu Linux. System 76 computers, he said, are meant for people who want the flexibility of Linux, but want computers that are configured and ready to use as soon as they’re pulled out of their boxes, hooked up and powered up.

“It’s just a really different experience from the get-go,” he said, adding that System 76 also offers technical support and acts much like a good hardware provider in that regard — people who have questions can get answers rather than seeking them out on their own. “You’re not left hanging with something that isn’t working.”

Richell pointed out the company prides itself on both customer service and the hardware used. The philosophy, he said, is that good hardware, software and customer service leads to repeat business.

To that end, System 76 custom builds and ships laptop computers with starting prices ranging from $615 to $1,399, desktops starting from $419 through $1,299 and servers starting from $1,049 through $2,099. Richell said the systems are custom made to customers’ specifications and there are plenty of price points and configurations from which to choose.

In addition to pulling together solid hardware, Richell said a lot of care was put into choosing the operating system. The company chose Ubuntu — which had been around for about a year when System 76 started — as Richell said developer Canonical is on the right track with its Linux distribution. Ubuntu, he said, has emerged as an easy to use operating system that boasts a slick interface and is upgraded often.

Also, Richell said System 76 and Canonical share a similar philosophy about the importance of open software. Linux has everything from graphics programs to office suites to audio editing software and the overwhelming majority of it is free. Companies operating in the Linux market, Richell said, recognize the value of software lies not in how much it costs, but in the services are built around it. System 76, for example, builds hardware around an OS that Richell is betting will continue gaining in popularity.

Richell did take some time to weigh in on a controversial move from Canonical — to entirely remove the Gnome 2 desktop shell default and focus entirely on Unity in Ubuntu 11.10, which was released last month. You’ll find more about the Unity desktop here, but it’s perhaps sufficient at this point to mention that Ubuntu’s new desktop gets away from the Microsoft Windows XP-like Gnome 2 shell that has attracted a loyal fanbase over the years.

Richell said he wouldn’t knock the appeal of Gnome, but opined that it was showing its age and was due for a Unity-like overhaul.

“We were falling behind,” he said, adding that Unity’s use of a dock bar, a simple search procedure to locate applications and some other tweaks render an interface he believes is on par with the latest stuff from both Apple Mac OS and Windows 7.

Richell said his company has been part of the Ubuntu community in both the OS and System 76 have — in a way — grown up together. He said anyone curious about Linux ought to give Ubuntu a try.

“You’re not giving up anything by switching to Ubuntu,” he said. “In fact, your gaining a lot.”

For more information or to build your own System 76 computer, click here.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


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