Founded by Alejandro López, Grupo Odín is a small business in Spain that sells high-quality laptops with Linux preloaded on them. Their goal is not to make a lot of money, but to bring Linux to more users.
A majority of desktop Linux users buy Windows laptops, wipe the hard drive and install Linux on them. But then they are on their own with no support from the company that sold them the laptop. By contrast, López offers complete support for his hardware.
Jens Reuterberg, an illustrator and designer who works with the KDE community, told me that the idea for the SLIMBOOK KDE came from Aleix Pol, vice president at KDE eV Board. Pol talked to López exploring the possibility of a KDE-powered SLIMBOOK and López was more happy to oblige. He worked with the KDE community members to create a laptop to their specifications.
KDE SLIMBOOK will be running KDE neon.
I know that some in the desktop Linux community care deeply about ‘this and not that’ distro issues. I’m not one of them. I don’t personally I don’t care if Dell sells Ubuntu-powered Sputnik laptops or Grupo Odín sells neon powered SLIMBOOKs. As long as it runs Linux, the kernel, I am fine.
Neon is not the only operating system that López’s company sells. He will put whatever distro you want on his hardware. López said that one of the reasons behind using neon is that it’s a complete KDE distribution, and brings a complete experience as KDE thinks it should be. He also expressed confidence in supporting customers. “We have experience working with Linux and offering hardware warranty, there is no problem we can solve any problem that our customers face.”
I am actually happy that they settled on one distribution instead of trying to support multiple KDE distros. Why? First of all, neon is not an official distro by the KDE community; it’s just another KDE project. The independence from a ‘distribution’ gives neon freedom to focus on the KDE experience, instead of struggling with integration with distros, like in the desktop Linux world where distress are a dime a dozen.
This means neon gets to try the latest and greatest upstream packages and package them for users. At the same time, by using single base on the hardware, it will make it easy for KDE developers to further stabilize the software stack. KDE is huge, and thanks to its modular design, it’s quite a complicated stack of software. If there is any issue or bug, instead of struggling to reproduce it in a number of different distributions and then try to figure out all the possible causes, neon makes it extremely easy to pinpoint the problem and fix it. In addition, most developers use the same hardware, so they also eliminate any challenges posed by the scenario that I often see where if you file a bug report the developer will come back and say “I don’t have the same hardware so I can’t really reproduce and fix it.”
This kills two birds with one stone: the KDE developers get to use the same hardware and software platform, so they can fix problems quicker and stabilize the software. The most important thing here is that SLIMBOOK is using standard hardware so if an issue gets fixed on SLIMBOOK it will affect a wide range of hardware.
That brings us to the question, “What kind of hardware is it?”
Show me the hardware
I have seen and used many “Linux preloaded” laptops, but most look really ugly and bulky. Dell XPS 13 has been the only exception so far. But when I looked at SLIMBOOK, I was amazed. It’s a very elegant ultrabook that showcases an aluminum body with high-end hardware. KDE neon seems a natural fit for this hardware. It has a special etching designed by Reuterberg that merges the SLIMBOOK logo with that of KDE.
SLIMBOOK is available in many configurations. There are two basic models: KDE Edition i5, powered by Intel i5-6200U 2.3GHz and KDE Edition i7, powered by Intel i7 6500U, 2.5GHz. Then customers can choose the amount of RAM and storage that they need. KDE Edition i5 starts at €729 with 4GB of RAM and 120GB SSD; KDE Edition i7 starts at €849 with the same amount of RAM and storage. If you need extra RAM, you can pay 60 € more for 8GB and €190 for 16GB. 250 GB of SSD will add € 110 and 500 SSD will add € 200 to the bill. All devices come with Intel Graphics HD520 and 13.3” FullHD LED display.
Everything looks great on the hardware, other than the display. I’ve become used to having a HiDPI display, and once you get used to more real estate on your screen and not seeing pixelated text, you would not want to go back.
Since the hardware is targeted at the developer community, I think having a HiDPI display would have helped improve the Plasma experience on such displays because KDE developers would be exposed to the issues users are facing and dogfooding would improve the HiDPI support on Plasma immensely.
That said, I don’t mind not having touchscreen as I really don’t see any use of a touchscreen on Linux desktop. Beyond Krita, there isn’t any application that can really take advantage of a touchscreen, but even in the case of a skating application you also need pressure sensitivity which is not yet possible. So I think not offering a touchscreen and keeping the prices relatively reasonable is a good decision. But please, make HiDPI baseline for laptops.
Who is it for?
In my conversation with Reuterberg, it became evident that it will help the KDE developers in stabilizing the KDE stack, from his perspective it’s targeted at the KDE community.
That said, this laptop is for anyone: educators, academics, children, privacy-minded people … anyone who wants complete control over their computing. Since it’s backed by the company, you don’t have to jump from one forum to another to fix any issues. If you come across any issues, chances are there will be a KDE developer using the same laptop, which will help in reproducing the bug and fixing it.
I think it’s a great move by the KDE community to bring a KDE-powered laptop to the market. I think they have made the right decision by sticking to neon for the machine as it will help them in targeting one platform and improving the entire stack. Those improvements will then find their way to other distributions.
As someone who runs different Linux distributions, I can totally understand this move. There are issues that crop up on Kubuntu, but not on openSUSE; there are problems that will bug me on openSUSE Leap but not on Arch Linux. It’s hard to track down what’s wrong and where. So kudos to the KDE community for picking one distribution.
If you live in Europe and plan to buy a new Linux-powered laptop, look no further than SLIMBOOK!