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Helping someone choose his first computer

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libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04

My sister's boyfriend is buying his first computer and he is going for a laptop. He asked me if I can recommend any good ones to him. We could say he asked the right person because I would be the one to recommend him a laptop with GNU/Linux pre-installed. Other than that I'm not very good at choosing computers for other people as I haven't done it a lot. I usually just give certain guidelines which I believe should be watched out for and that's it.. Well.. actually I haven't been asked a lot in real life to recommend someone a computer, let alone a first one.

Anyway, to get to the point, there's one bit of concern that I have. If I recommend him GNU/Linux laptop in some sense it could turn out as if he's my pet project so to speak, an opportunity for me to "convert" someone into a GNU/Linux user without that someone actually knowing what all that stuff is anyway. So, I feel like telling him all about it, but I feel like that would take quite a lecture and I don't want to end up shoving him the stuff that he really isn't at all interested in (a reality is that sometimes the responsibility of choosing freedom is on a third party, because first party isn't versed in the area in which a choice is to be made).

The thing is that by recommending him a laptop and further helping him as he learns to use it I'm kind of responsible for him and hence also guilty if something goes wrong. So what if those sensitive things go wrong? For example, what if a friend gives him a windows game and he tries to run it on his new laptop? How do I justify to him the fact that this particular laptop wont run it because it has GNU/Linux on it? The obvious next question he'll ask is, "but everyone else can run it?" I'm beginning to understand the difficulties of switching to GNU/Linux a bit deeper.. - Windows is a deep social norm, not just a most used operating system. People expect everything that was running on windows to run on any other computer regardless of what OS it has. That's an inescapable norm.

Now.. I wouldn't for the world bring myself to recommend him a Windows laptop. That would be like totally betraying myself. I'm just wondering how best to resolve those issues.

Also, I'm wondering which laptop to recommend.. When I was looking at buying a laptop I liked those Dell Inspirons. Probably best thing would be laptops with Intel Core Duo and onboard intel graphics because of seamless 2D/3D video support. Pity those Dell Ubuntu laptops haven't become international yet. I guess they might by September when he plans to actually make a buy.

Joined: 2006-06-19
I agree: buying a

I agree: buying a preinstall linux laptop is the best approach - make sure everything
works out of the box (so that they do not have a bad experience). You can view my
long list of pre-installed linux PC (desktop and laptop) at
-> retailers
-> Linux pre-installed vendors (including laptops)

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any cheap laptop (less than $700; sort of looking myself).
There is a dirt cheap one coming in August, but I have no clue on how powerful it is.


p.s. If desktop, there are alot of choices.
p.s.s. Can't recommend any laptop. My old "element: mercury 700m" laptop
is dying and its company is out of business.

tbuitenh's picture
Joined: 2005-12-21
The first thing you should

The first thing you should do is ask him what he wants to do with his laptop. Does he want to use any specific software? If he mentions names of proprietary software, show him free equivalents and ask if those are OK too.

It may help to make a comparison gnu/linux - mac - windows, that way it's easier to make differences be understood as differences rather than problems.

you can help solve problems: yes
installing software: very easy, costs nothing
"popular" games: very few
gaming in general: many fun little games
opportunity to learn how stuff works: very good
general ease of use: good
malware: nothing outside the lab
time until hardware becomes obsolete: very long

you can help solve problems: NO
installing software: easy but may be difficult to acquire, often expensive
"popular" games: a few, may be hard to find
gaming in general: ?
opportunity to learn: not bad
ease of use: perfect
malware: nothing outside the lab
time until hardware becomes obsolete: long

MS Windows:
you can help solve problems: NO WAY!
installing software: easy to find, not difficult to install, but expect problems when you install a lot
"popular" games: all of them
gaming in general: good
opportunity to learn: not much
ease of use: not very bad, easy if you're already used to it
malware: welcome to hell
time until hardware becomes obsolete: depends. at most until the next version of the OS, probably less

After making the obvious choice of OS, choose a laptop that comes with that preinstalled. If he insists on using windoze, tell him to get any laptop, it doesn't matter.

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
Well, we talked just last

Well, we talked just last night about this and he's deciding to go for a desktop after all, because of greater expandability and because he doesn't think he'll need to be so mobile with his computer.

It's possible that I'll put his new computer together myself, out of similar components as I did my own (because I can vouch for it) only with some modifications. Otherwise we'll pick something in a store that most closely fits what he wants and what works well with GNU/Linux. It's also easier to find desktops with GNU/Linux pre-installed or with no-OS (either way is fine because I'll be setting up Ubuntu for him myself).

About games.. looks like he really does want to play popular games every now and then so we're down to the usual compromise; dual boot. I'll have to install Windows XP just for games and Ubuntu as a primary OS for everything else. But hey, it's still a very good thing. If he didn't meet me he would certainly go for Windows because everyone except me is telling him that (because, apparently, everyone of his friends except me is running Windows). If I get to set up a nice box with Ubuntu on it, and set up the 3D desktop stuff (which works flawlessly on my box so much that I'm now running it regularly) I think even some of his windows friends will be interested in perhaps trying it out. Smiling

My configuration, just if anyone's curious or thinks that something could be done better for him (if he lets me build his comp from scratch) is this:

Gigabyte 965P DS3 (I'll probably get 965G for him because of the Intel integrated graphics on it to fall back on, something I accidentally missed)
Intel Core 2 Duo E6320 (should be cheaper today than before, otherwise I'll probably get a one model lower).
ATI Radeon X800 GTO (second best among the supported series by the free drivers, although these free drivers still have some issues, at least Nexuiz and OpenArena and similar games work flawlessly).
Seagate Barracuda 80GB IDE disk and Optiarc AD-5170A DVD burner (I'd probably get SATA for him, bigger disk and a DVD from someone else, Optiarc hasn't been working out very well, I'm thinking LiteOn which I have good experience with).
1GB Kingston DDR2 800Mhz memory (I think)

And of course there's LG Flatron L1919S 19" monitor, Logitech X230 speakers, some HP keyboard and optical logitech mouse which can vary. Although I am extremely satisfied with these speakers. I think it's rare to find something as cheap yet good and strong sounding as this is.

So his computer would be a mix of something like above, with changes such as SATA drives and a slightly different version of the motherboard. What do you think?

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
I agree. I'll check again,

I agree. I'll check again, but it seems that he doesn't have any special requirements yet. The reason he's buying is because, as he said "computers are the future" (and I chuckled in my mind thinking "no, computers are the present" Eye ). So yeah, he's buying because he wants to learn to use them and then possibly get a job where he can use that knowledge (he's shooting for working for the state and even there at least basic knowledge of computers is required).

Now if he learns to use he'll likely be finding his way around MS Office easily if someone forces him to use that at work, and about other software I can't really think of anything else that could be an issue.

So the biggest con is gaming, but I guess dual boot will have to solve that one....

Joined: 2006-06-19
For native linux games,

For native linux games, see (non-commercial; linux-games) (non-commercial; linux-gamer) (non-commercial; linux world) (non-commercial; OpenGL) (LinuxGames)


libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
Thanks. There's also

Thanks. There's also

Not all of the listed games are Free Software though.

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
Just an update on this.

Just an update on this. He's well on his way with Ubuntu and appears to like it quite a bit, although understanding that it is a different OS from Windows which most other people are using, but better. He had friends come over and say they've never seen anything like it, but I suppose they'll like it, especially after yesterday when I set the 3D desktop with compiz fusion up for him. Both he and his mum which was spying on the whole thing were quite impressed by the cube, the water drops with a wiper, the expose and expo views, fire on the screen etc. Laughing out loud

I gotta say 3D is the best way to really get attention of a new non-geek user to a new OS. It is then automatically perceived as awesomely superior. Eye

I also installed some games for him. He appears to like Nexuiz, but I also installed Teewars, Battle For Wesnoth (though that one has a bit of a learning curve), frozen bubble, Warsow etc. I don't think he ever booted into Windows XP since I set it all up and it was set there for gaming. Laughing out loud He mentioned that he might probably get rid of Windows there completely, which I welcome, of course.

So, step by step he'll familiarize himself with GNOME, and this is his first computer ever. I suppose when he gets the basics there he'll easily be able to use Windows if it is required of him, but we were discussing ways for him to get the ECDL and then specialize in an area where he could use GNU/Linux, which I suppose can be stuff like networking and programming (since that's rather universal). His goal is quite ambitious, starting from zero he wants to learn as much to actually be able to professionally work (for a good pay) with computers.

Interesting. I say everything is possible. With some love and enthusiasm he can do it. He might just rediscover himself as a Free Software loving computer geek, at some point soon. Eye

free-zombie's picture
Joined: 2006-03-08
libervisco wrote: I also
libervisco wrote:

I also installed some games for him. He appears to like Nexuiz, but I also installed Teewars, Battle For Wesnoth (though that one has a bit of a learning curve), frozen bubble, Warsow etc. I don't think he ever booted into Windows XP since I set it all up and it was set there for gaming. Laughing out loud He mentioned that he might probably get rid of Windows there completely, which I welcome, of course.

I wouldn't have expected you to install a non-free game, especially a non-spectacular one, for him....

Otherwise, that's great !

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
I wasn't aware Teewars is

I wasn't aware Teewars is non-free. Sad Bad on me for assuming it was though. I can't find the license anywhere now though so the only thing suggesting it could be non-free, which at the moment makes it technically non-free is lack of available source code. I thought I saw it for download though, but on another check.. nope.. it's not there. :S

Well if it turns out they wont be releasing it as Free Software soon enough, which is possible I suppose, we can phase it out. It got stuck in-game when we tested it on his computer and couldn't get out (no mouse on the "resume / disconnect" menu) so I suggested him not to start it till this is resolved...

Eh I know you guys would expect me to watch out for this stuff before anyone else, but there.. I failed.

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
I just asked about

I just asked about licensing on their channel (quakenet, #teewars) and they currently don't have any license, but the source is not released.

Their current plans "according to the latest call" is to release it under a BSD license plus a non-commercial clause. Reason apparently is that if anyone's gonna be making money from it it's gonna be them. They want to get the game into Xbox and Wii too and they somehow perceive GPL as an obstacle to that. The guy I was talking to also says that they apparently have a problem with accepting patches under GPL.

Also he referred to Linus's criticism for GPLv3 despite the fact that Linus actually promoted GPLv2 (and it would be fine under either license).

Anyway, you can guess I tried to convince them to release it as Free Software because they could get support from the Free Software people and also easier inclusion in GNU/Linux distro repositories.

Overall I didn't get the impression that they full well know the implications. I think they perceive obstacles where there are none and misunderstand Free Software and GPL.

But perhaps there is a tiny bit of chance that they'll decide for a Free Software license.. I'm thinking some dangerous thoughts here.. maybe we should try to convince them.. join the forums and politely ask about licensing and engage in a constructive conversation about it? There is no such discussion in their forums yet. If we manage to convince them I think that'd be quite a good thing for everyone.

What do you think?

free-zombie's picture
Joined: 2006-03-08
I had quite a similar

I had quite a similar discussion on IRC with them ;-) I also don't think they're about to free their nice little game... here's a log of the conversation

"#teewars on Quakenet" wrote:

--- Log opened Sat Aug 18 17:01:37 2007
17:39 < free-zombie> is teewars going to become free anytime soon ?
17:39 < klepas> thanks Smiling
17:39 < klepas> hey free-zombie! Smiling
17:39 < void> free? as in open souce?
17:39 < free-zombie> g'dat klepas
17:39 < free-zombie> void: yeah, that free
17:39 < void> well, yes
17:39 < klepas> void: that'd be rad
17:40 < free-zombie> :-)... what are you waiting for ?
17:40 < void> We are thinking about a BSD-license with non commercial clause
17:40 < klepas> void:
17:40 < free-zombie> that wouldn't be free
17:40 < void> well, free enough
17:40 < void> we won't gpl it
17:40 < free-zombie> why ?
17:41 < void> mostly because it's a license most of the developers on this project disagree with
17:41 < free-zombie> well... maybe you can find or write a free license that suits you ?
17:41 < void> pure BSD/zlib maybe
17:42 < free-zombie> that'd be cool ^^
17:42 < void> but we actually don't want peaople repackage and sell a game that we put a lot of effort into making
17:42 < void> klepas: nice, but I seem to lack a svg reader =)
17:42 < klepas> void: want me to export it?
17:43 < klepas> void: firefox should be able to load it
17:43 < void> i'm running safari
17:43 < void> no ff installed
17:43 < free-zombie> void: well, a copyleft license would make a non-free re-packaging impossible.
17:43 < daoo> nice icon, whatever it gives a window-ish feeling
17:43 < klepas> daoo: tango-styled
17:43 < daoo> yeh
17:43 < klepas>
17:43 < TEH_C> what's the point with it? Sticking out tongue
17:44 < void> free-zombie: well, you can still sell it =)
17:44 < void> if someone are to make money from teewars is should be us (and mainly matricks)
17:45 < free-zombie> yeah, wouldn't it be cool if magazines could bundle it on software collection CDs ? ;-)
17:45 < void> he is the one that has the final call anyway =)
17:45 < klepas> feature request: logging capability?
17:45 < daoo> klepas: tango's mysql server seems to be down
17:45 < klepas> daoo: yea, has been for a while Sad
17:45 < daoo> Sad
17:45 < void> free-zombie: that's binary license... not source license
17:46 < void> klepas: logging in what way?
17:46 < free-zombie> huh ?
17:46 < daoo> klepas: however to me the icon don't give a tango feeling
17:46 < klepas> basically it's a SVG-source icon set following's icon spec
17:46 < klepas> so for GNOME and KDE and such
17:46 < klepas> it's probably the most complete and awesome set around
17:46 < void> free-zombie: you can distribute the binary, it's freeware
17:46 < klepas> void: i dunno
17:46 < void> klepas: from a client perspective?
17:47 < klepas> i'm running a server... wouldn't mind being able to view a log file of the server some where
17:47 < void> we does have a server-log
17:47 < klepas> void: ohs?
17:47 < void> just redirect the output
17:47 < free-zombie> void: and sell the binary ? I mean, they'd be making money off it if it were in a magazine, in a way
17:47 < void> free-zombie: well, we need to specify those things
17:47 < klepas> void: as in ./teewars_srv > log.txt?
17:48 < void> free-zombie: but we haven't had the time yet
17:48 < void> klepas: yep
17:48 < void> some guy actually has a stats-parser
17:48 < klepas> void: would be nice if it were inc. so i could look at previous logs
17:48 < void> >> then =)
17:49 < Arood> /MSG

NEWPASS erHUR4ne 2sg8TP 2sg8TP
17:50 < TEH_C> k.
17:50 < Arood> lolol
17:51 < free-zombie> if teewars were free software, it could be included in Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc etc... (also, I don't see anyone selling nexuiz, or bzflag, or armagetronad...)
17:51 < TEH_C> orly? -.-
17:52 < void> and? if teewars is freeware and good, people will download it =)
17:52 < Arood> didn't he just said the binary is freeware? O.o
17:53 < void> Arood: some people don't think thats free enough
17:53 < Arood> void: some people are weird ^^
17:53 < free-zombie> if teewars is part of GNU/Linux distributions, more people will play it. If it's free software, people will port it to OSs and architectures plenty too ^^
17:53 < TEH_C> maybe distribution isn't the largest priority in 0.2.3 either
17:54 < free-zombie> and more people could contribute if it were free
17:55 < void> free-zombie: hard enough to keep the quality up with this limited team =)
17:56 < free-zombie> I'm not saying "give everyone write access to CVS", I'm saying be open to good patches (and don't use CVS because it's the second-worst VCS ;-))
17:57 < free-zombie> also, many eyes make all bugs shallow.~
17:59 <@teetow> guys, it's just a game =)

Bold lines are relevant to the conversation, italic lines are particularly troublesome/annoying.

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
Ah well.. we tried. I

Ah well.. we tried. I guess we can now just hope they change their mind about it. Maybe if some more people ask about it there will be sufficient pressure. I don't think they still get it, the benefits of making it Free Software and how unfounded some of their fears may be.

lcafiero's picture
Joined: 2007-05-16
Maybe for future reference . . .

Hey, Danijel --

Glad to hear that things are going well for your sister's boyfriend. Getting back to the original topic, however, there's one outfit in Berkeley, California -- it's called ZaReason -- that should get special mention since it preinstalls GNU/Linux (Ubuntu) onto their own desktops and laptops. They also have excellent customer service and I believe they ship internationally.

They're at

Larry Cafiero
"Larry the Free Software Guy"

libervisco's picture
Joined: 2006-05-04
I saw the ZaReason logo

I saw the ZaReason logo many times on Helios' blog. Smiling Sounds great, but shipping might be a bit too expensive from there to Croatia, but who knows.. I'll keep them in mind at least to recommend to others. Smiling

Right now, we are settled though. I built my box myself and he already got a comp with the custom chosen configuration (similar to my own).


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