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Re: free software mini pc

Mark Neidorff wrote at 2012-02-14 17:45 -0600:
> I've stayed on the sidelines of this thread because the original post sounded 
> to me like trolling.  But, after the posts that I have read, you seem quite 
> serious.

Trolling?!  Apparently I failed to clearly express myself in the original 

> Have you looked at mini-itx systems on ebay for inspiration?

I have looked primarily at mini-itx systems during my research.

> I have one now running Lenny as my server. It is rock solid.  It just sits 
> there, silently, and runs and runs and runs.  Everything just worked on 
> installation.

It is great that your server has worked so well for you.

> I'm still not 100% clear on what is standing in your way.

When you purchased the server on which you run Lenny, did you know for sure 
that the installation would go smoothly and all hardware would work 
correctly?  What if today you needed another system on which to run Debian 
and knew that you did not have time to troubleshoot any hardware problems?  
You could get the same as what you have now, but what if it is no longer 
available?  Wouldn't it be helpful to find a vendor that provided a hardware 
table for each system with information about Linux mainline kernel versions, 
drivers, and firmware?  Like, "this SATA controller is supported since Linux 
v2.6.29 with the ahci driver".  So in that case you could look at their site, 
compare with the kernel version in Debian stable, and know with reasonable 
certainty that this hardware will "just work" with Debian stable.  Or that 
you need to consider a kernel in backports, etc.

Many vendors mention various versions of Windows on their hardware pages, but 
nothing about Linux.  So as a consumer, do I just blindly assume that, 
although the vendor apparently does not care enough about Linux to even 
mention it, that it will all "just work"?  Or those that mention Linux, but 
no kernel versions: will the kernel in Debian stable work?  Or those with 
Linux drivers available for download, do I need to maintain out-of-tree 
drivers (remember I mentioned a maintenance burden)?

Now, because of the implication that hardware (as with your server, Mark) 
will all "just work" with Debian (and that my post/research is just 
silly/trolling), I will quickly mention nvidia, fglrx, and ralink wireless, 
all problematic a while back.  I have had a Thinkpad T61 with a PSTN modem 
for >4 years, it has never worked (Debian amd64); I hope to try again when I 
upgrade to wheezy.  Okay, so now someone might say "well, of course video, 
winmodems, and wireless will cause some trouble sometimes".  These 
mini-pcs... any of them have onboard video hardware?  Or come with wireless 

And someone might say that many of the problems had in the past are resolved, 
and quite possible so.  So if I need a functional device now, do I need to 
just purchase one and shelve it for a few years before assuming Linux will 
work?  I understand that Linux has a history of better support for older 
hardware, and that is reasonable, but would that need to be so (as much) if 
vendor support was better?  And the Intel GM965 video on my T61 still does 
not quite work correctly for 3d applications, even after 4 years.

Okay, I could look through the specifications carefully and research eg. the 
wireless hardware, but what about when vendors change the chipset mid-model?

Am I being demanding here?  I want an absolutely functional Linux on a 
device, and I am willing to pay for it (I have mentioned no limit, though I 
do have a budget).  For those assuming I am needing tens or hundreds of 
whatever mini-pc I choose, no.  I only need a single mini-pc system.  More 
later, perhaps.  It is not for my own use, but at a location where tech 
support is not available, and where the system will quite likely be in use 
for 5+ years.

So to recap my original post, the basic requirements are:
- fanless mini PC
- it will run Debian
- production environment (reliability is important)
- good Linux support to facilitate fast deployment and low maintenance, 
- avoiding non-free software (non-free firmware, out-of-tree kernel modules, 

and I mentioned also:
- many devices with only partial mainline Linux support
- unable to find itemized information about Linux kernel support
- some devices ship with Linux (often Ubuntu) and use a custom kernel

My original post did not mention this explicitly, but I would be pleased to 
find a manufacturer/vendor that is interested in supporting Linux users, and 
provides devices with 100% functionality using 100% free software.  Perhaps 
that sounds a bit less demanding, while still being very closely related to 
the original.

The response I expected to that original post, and would even have expected 
to the question in this previous paragraph, is that no, unfortunately there 
are no/few significant vendors that are interested in Linux users to this 
extent.  I would be satisfied with this answer, though disappointed, and 
definitely interested in future developments of this sort.  (I do not see any 
use in beating an old topic.)

I was surprised with the responses I received instead; I hope this and my 
other succeeding posts help remove the obscurity.

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