In the old days, the operating system had to be Windows, but the times are changing. TUXEDO Computers is part of a new generation of computer vendors specializing in preinstalled Linux systems. The company is celebrating its 18th birthday this year, which seemed like a good time to ask TUXEDO founder Herbert Feiler about how he got started and the path ahead.
Linux Magazine (LM): Before you started TUXEDO, where were you, and what were you doing? What is your background?
Herbert Feiler (HF): Before I started the company in 2004 in Bayreuth, I passed a business education traineeship.
LM: How did you get interested in Linux?
HF: My general interest in computer hardware and software goes back to 1995 when I got my first personal computer, a solid 100MHz Intel i486 with Windows 95. After many, many reinstalls of Windows 95 and a more or less peaceful coexistence, Windows XP was announced. Like today, each new version of Windows leads to more Linux users. I was one of them who got interested in different operating systems. I thought, when adapting to a new Windows look-and-feel and usability, I could also directly adapt to a totally new and hopefully better operating system. I reached out for a more customizable system with a wider range of variations and openness, and voila, my Linux journey began.
LM: Take us back to the beginning. How did TUXEDO get started?
HF: Well, as mentioned, I started my Linux journey to find a more suitable operating system for myself, but this was more difficult than expected. I “traveled” around and visited (or tested) both well-known as well as not widely-known distros.
But first things first, back in the 2000s, the Internet connection speed was a bit slower than it is today, but thanks to the Linux New Media group and the print magazines they published – and still do – I bought the Linux Magazin [the German version of Linux Magazine] and LinuxUser at my local train station kiosk. CDs (or perhaps already DVDs – I’m not sure) were attached to the magazines, fully loaded with Linux distros. And, of course, I tried to find as much information and stuff as possible on the Internet.
LM: The hardware landscape was so different 18 years ago. Many hardware vendors didn’t even think about Linux and certainly didn’t provide Linux drivers or tech support. How did you find your way through that minefield? Did you do some of the coding yourself to get the hardware to work? Or was it just a matter of finding a core group of Linux-friendly hardware vendors to work with?
HF: To help other people avoid the hurdles that I experienced, I started a website called “Linux Tests.” Today people would call it a blog, but, at the beginning of the century, it was a simple website. On the website, I wrote about my experiences, provided tips and tricks, and other things. And there was a discussion forum for people to share their experiences and help each other. In this forum, questions like “Where can I buy this and that?” came up. One day, I decided to open my own store, a Linux online shop. And this descriptive name became the name of the first online shop and company I founded: Linux-Onlineshop.
In the beginning, mainly merchandise was sold, like cups, shirts, stickers, and also books and software boxes – yes, software boxes, because 18 years ago CDs and DVDs were very popular software distribution methods. Over the years, I constantly expanded the range of products. The first hardware we sold was a standard-sized microATX desktop computer, followed by mini PCs, full-sized ATX desktops, and then notebooks/laptops.
It was very tough to find the right hardware that ran flawlessly with Linux. There were many, many unsuccessful attempts and tests. From the beginning, my goal was to give a fully functioning product to the community, not something that worked almost perfect – it had to be perfect! This was the reason why I started with desktop computers instead of notebooks. Desktops are still much easier to run with Linux. Notebooks have many special features that often need to be reverse-engineered.
LM: I can see why the average user 18 years ago would see some benefit in buying a ready-made system. Now, though, Linux is much easier to set up. Are there still reasons to go with a preinstalled system? What value does TUXEDO bring to the installation and configuration process?
HF: There are things that are much easier today than 18 years ago. The whole community is much more structured, and there are many companies that work together to get things done. But there are still problems on every new hardware platform, such as new CPUs, new graphics cards, etc. And as earlier described, it is also a thing of expectations: If you simply want to run Linux somehow on a device, you can do it on most of the devices, but it won’t run perfect! On laptops, there are always special keys that don’t run out of the box. Often, the touchpad needs special drivers. The fan control is always running in some very rudimentary way. The keyboard backlight is not or not fully controllable, and many more issues!
LM: You have your own Linux distro, called TUXEDO OS, which is based on Ubuntu. Why did you see a need for your own OS, and what features did you build into TUXEDO OS to shape it for your needs?
HF: Regular Linux distros are always a compromise between many user opinions and many devices! With our own distribution, we’re totally free to customize everything to work perfectly with our products.
LM: Tell us about TUXEDO Tomte.
HF: TUXEDO Tomte is a configuration service. After the customer has performed a manual Linux installation, Tuxedo Tomte post-installs all the required drivers, updates, and bug fixes on a Tuxedo notebook or PC and then automatically keeps Tuxedo up to date so that it functions just as flawlessly as if it had been preinstalled by Tuxedo Computers. If Tuxedo is ordered preinstalled or a Linux installation has been performed via the supplied WebFAI stick, the Tomte configuration service is not required. Everything is already set up beforehand.
The privacy of the users is respected, and no data is sent to TUXEDO Computers! TUXEDO Tomte changes as little as possible in the system and only as much as needed to correctly function. The users’ settings will not be overwritten.
LM: You offer a dual-boot option. Is there a significant number of your customers who still want to hang on to that Windows option even though they have gone to the trouble to buy a Linux computer?
HF: In fact, most customers buy a Linux-only computer. This has mainly to do with the issue of data protection.
We notice that the number of our customers who want dual-boot is constantly decreasing. When dual-boot is requested, it is for a number of reasons: For one thing, working with a familiar system in parallel provides a safety net for Linux newcomers. But we notice that a lot of customers want to give Linux a chance and don’t order a dual-boot variant anymore, but [instead use] Windows in a virtual machine. Of course, we give advice beforehand on which setup is best for each use case.
On the other hand, the most common reason is that there are programs (e.g., design tools) that only run under Windows, and the Linux alternatives are not as sophisticated as needed yet. Furthermore, the topic of gaming plays a big role: It has also been shown in recent years that gaming under Linux is becoming more popular and technically better.
LM: Who are your customers? You have a lineup of personal notebooks, business notebooks, desktop systems, and gaming systems. Are they all equally important, or is one market segment particularly important in terms of revenue and attention?
HF: We have both private customers and business customers. Business customers, in particular, have become aware of us over the years and like to buy our ultrabooks. But the private customer segment is also growing more and more – often with every major Windows update.
In addition, we have a considerable number of Linux users who buy from us and recommend us because they have had the experience that the laptop simply works: You only have to turn it on, and it can be put into operation immediately and nothing else has to be configured – unless you want to change something specific, but that is then a personal choice. The functionality, however, is there from the beginning. In addition, a TUXEDO device works for a very long time – we often have customers who say with a smile that they would like to buy a new device, but their current TUXEDO still works perfectly. They also appreciate our service and advice.
LM: Look five years into the future. It is 2027. How will the market for personal computers be different? Where would you like TUXEDO to be?
HF: In 2027, we will be a bit bigger and will be able to serve more customers. Let’s see if we have to expand further – already this year, we will add 500 square meters to our current premises.
We are also optimistic that the chip manufacturers have upgraded to such an extent that the inquiries can be served promptly.
Basically, we are noticing a general trend away from mass-market products towards more high-quality devices – in other words, what we thought was right and have been pursuing since the beginning of the company.