When I bought a new computer over a year and a half ago, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the then-present Ubuntu did not support my hardware in full. I have written here about some of the trials and tribulations I have had getting everything set up just so. Ultimately, I had to wait a couple of versions, but the most important thing I did to get everything running stably was to upgrade from the Ubuntu sanctioned kernel version of 2.6.28 to the newer 2.6.30.

Many an article has been written about how I never should have had to do that or know that or have any concept of what a kernel was, how it differed from the operating system or desktop environment as a whole, or what version I needed. I will say upfront, that I agree. While I have a pretty good nuts 'n bolts knowledge of a Linux desktop, I should never need it to get up and running. The real problem here is less one of raw technical capability (since I was able to solve the problem with an upgrade), than it is the simple fact that most manufacturers give Linux no thought on the desktop. Windows would run a lot rougher if OEMs didn't work with Microsoft to ensure that it is otherwise. The idea of this all working, out of the box, with no OEM involvement is simply ridiculous. The only ones who can test a hardware configuration before it is released into the wild are the ones putting it together in the first place.

Until OEMs start working with the major Linux distros (or, at least, the major distro of their choice), this problem will never entirely go away. Contrary to what many Linux advocates say, OEMs are not evil. Ultimately, they don't care what operating system people run, as long as the money winds up in their project. If Dell believed that an immediate adoption of Haiku (an OSS BeOS clone) would make them top dog, they would do it. Apple straddles a fine line between being a software company and a hardware company, but this is not so of HP/Compaq, Dell, Gateway, eMachines & company. They sell boxen. If changing OSes or supporting more OSes would mean more sales, they would do it.

The only way, then, that the OEMs will ever support Linux will be when there are enough Linux desktop users that it is worthwhile in terms of simple supply and demand. The only way that Linux will make its inroads is if distro packagers make life as easy as is humanly possibly in the meanwhile. I have to assume that I am not the only one to purchase a machine that needed a bleeding edge setup to work properly. So, the only way to really service these users (like me!) is to make it easier to go bleeding edge when it is necessary. I understand the idea of sticking to a version of the kernel, like 2.6.28, for the duration of a release. It makes it a lot simpler to ensure that all of the software will work together.

However, to accommodate those with newer rigs, the clear solution is to make it easier to go bleeding edge. It should not be something so trivial as clicking a check box on some preferences dialog, but it should be easier to use a later kernel with a given release. Fedora almost gets it right with Rawhide. By changing a simple option, you can go bleeding edge. However, it is less bleeding edge than it is like running off a random dev's test box. You never know if it will work the next morning. For the system components that directly support hardware, like the kernel and some of the low level daemons, I would recommend a special backports type of repository that is being updated alongside the new one. If there are hardware difficulties, make it easier for the user to use NDISwrapper (the best thing to ever happen to Linux wireless) and upgrade to later versions of the kernel without sitting atop of Linus's Git branch. It would not be perfect, but it would help a great deal because, as things stand now, you have to fight with Fedora or Ubuntu (or else do an inordinate amount of work) to use a version of the kernel that is not officially sanctioned.