Is the Thinkpad now Linux-friendly?

IBM says its laptops will be "compatible" with Red Hat Linux -- but just what does that mean?

By Andrew Leonard
September 14, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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As part of its canny ongoing attempt to ride the Linux wave, IBM said on Monday that one of the most popular models of its Thinkpad series of laptops will be certified "compatible" with Red Hat Linux. Early Tuesday morning, says Tim Eades, a segment marketing manager for IBM Thinkpads, IBM will set up a Web page for the Thinkpad 600E that will include the compatibility announcement, "how-to" documents for getting Linux up and running on the 600E and other Linux-related news.

Ask and you shall receive? Two weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing some hardware compatibility problems involving Linux and laptops. And I won't be shy -- the IBM 600E was one model I definitely had my eyes on. But I was scared away by reports of how impossible it was to get the internal modem in the 600E to work with Linux.


Have my worries been resolved? Not quite. Eades says that Tuesday's announcement does not include the release of software drivers that will allow the 600E's internal modem to work with Linux. So there's really not much news in IBM's announcement -- unless one interprets the company's commitment to Linux compatibility to mean that eventually some Thinkpads will be fully operational under Linux.

"We will search for working groups to work with on this issue," says Eades. "And we are looking forward to making additional announcements at the end of this month and at the end of October."

Eades says IBM will continue to announce new models of Thinkpads that will be compatible with Red Hat Linux, as well as other distributions of the open-source operating system. But he couldn't say if the source code of any eventual driver releases would be made available to the general public or kept proprietary.


Eades explained IBM's reasoning behind the compatibility announcement as twofold: "No. 1, by claiming compatibility on Linux, we maintain the position that Thinkpad is the leader in this industry, period. No. 2, we absolutely see a lot of demand from influential people in the marketplace, particularly in education and in the smaller developer markets. When you look at your route-to-market strategy this is obviously important. Thinkpad is very strong in education and Linux is obviously targeting that. We're right there with them."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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