There was a time when Linux was seen as an outcast operating system, and indeed one that was labelled as a ‘cancer’ by Microsoft’s former CEO Steve Ballmer.
Times have now changed as the 25-year-old operating system has made some serious inroads in the server market, then in the cloud – not forgetting that it underpins the most popular ecosystem out there: Android.
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Because none of the main notebook vendors – bar Dell – offer Linux as an OS option, this leaves other smaller companies the ability to carve a niche for themselves.
Below are the five best Linux laptops of 2017 we’ve picked out using our expert eye – note that they have been fine-tuned to run a specific flavour of Linux (such as Ubuntu, for example).
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1. Dell XPS 13 9360
Ideal for those looking for a sleek-and-chic portable
The XPS 13 retains its crown as the undisputed champion of the Ultrabook market, and one can only admire Dell for its unwavering Linux support on a flagship machine. The laptop is customisable so you can configure it to be suitable for everything from routine office tasks to gaming, depending on how much you’re willing to pay.
If you wish, you can plump for one of the more expensive models which have a QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800 resolution) display. The slightly more wallet-friendly configurations run with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) 13.3-inch InfinityEdge display. Obviously the latter will give you better battery life relative to a larger more pixel-packed display, but users will never know the joy of the vibrant colour reproduction the super-sharp QHD+ screen delivers.
At checkout you can choose to preinstall Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.
2. Alpha Litebook
Superb for those wanting a mainstream Linux laptop
Google and its armada of Chromebooks seem to have cornered the bottom end of the laptop market, much to the chagrin of traditional Linux users who demand far better value for money. However, one small vendor has pledged to change the way things work.
Alpha Universal uses Elementary OS to power its Litebook laptop which costs roughly the same as a Chromebook, but has twice the system memory, far more expansion capabilities, a faster than average CPU (an Intel Celeron N3150 quad-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz), a Full HD display and 512GB of ‘replaceable’ storage (a traditional hard disk drive) plus a 32GB SSD (that’s the ‘hybrid’ option). With a very tempting budget price tag, this is a great way for a beginner to explore the world of Linux.
3. Purism Librem 13
Great for privacy fanatics
Purism embarked upon a quest to build the most secure laptop ever and (obviously) chose Linux (PureOS) to power the device – it is the only notebook vendor on the market to offer physical kill switches as standard on its laptops.
Instead of going mainstream, the company tapped into the crowdfunding community to gain more than $430,000 (around £330,000, AU$545,000) worth of funding, allowing it to adopt a stricter ethos than most firms when it comes to privacy, rights to free software and security.
The Librem 13 might look and feel like a bog-standard laptop but there's far more to it than meets the eye (for example, the company designed its own motherboards).
In addition, Purism’s commitment to Linux (and security in general) certainly goes beyond most of the vendors on this list.
4. Dell Precision 17 7720
The world’s most powerful 17-inch workstation supports Ubuntu
Hailed by Dell as the world’s most powerful workstation with a 17-inch display, the Precision 17 7720 has one hidden feature – it can be configured with Ubuntu 16.04 out of the box (don’t forget to remove the Energy Star rating). As expected, it comes with a significant price tag that approaches five figures when it is loaded with all bells and whistles.
It’s comforting to know that even the latest hardware (Xeon Skylake, Quadro P5000 GPU, 64GB RAM etc) officially supports Ubuntu (albeit the LTS edition) and is backed by one of the largest players in the market. It’s a shame that Dell, as it stands, is the only major vendor offering Ubuntu across a wide range of laptops catering for multiple segments.
5. System76 Galago Pro
Looking for the ultimate Linux powerhouse?
On paper, the Galago Pro from System76 is an absolute beast of a machine, and yet it weighs less than most laptops which also have a 13-inch screen. This is a notebook that rivals the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, featuring an aluminium chassis, and managing to make space for up to 32GB of RAM (yes, 32GB) and up to 6TB of solid-state storage space.
If that wasn’t enough, it has a 13.3-inch display with a resolution of 3,200 x 1,800, an Ethernet port, an SD card reader, two USB ports and a Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C/mini-DisplayPort connector. In a nutshell, you will be hard pressed to get anything in Windows-land that can deliver this sort of compute power and storage capacity.