Disclaimer: Accounts may vary. Many discussions during the rather lengthy run up to System76 were accompanied by our silent partner… Beer.
It was 2003 and I had re-started one of my old companies after a long vacation. My good friend and Co-Founder of System76, Erik Fetzer, was helping in numerous areas and mentioned that he had registered system76.com to sell Linux computers. I thought it was a good idea and we left it at that.
Two years later we were both wrapping up large projects and again System76 surfaced. This time seriously. It was fairly simple. GNU/Linux and the open source community deserved a high quality OEM and we thought we could do it. We thought it would fun to create something cool that was at the forefront of technology. So it began and it became very interesting, very fast.
What Distro to Choose
The most important and challenging early question was that of our distro. As clear as it may seem today, in mid 2005 the process was a evolution of thought. First we were going to sell PC’s with a myriad of popular distros and even dual boot Windows. What were we thinking? Clearly our quest to bring GNU/Linux to the masses required more focus. How would someone unfamiliar with GNU/Linux choose a distribution? Why should they have to? We needed to choose the best distribution for our customers. The search began.
What didn’t matter in this process is as interesting as what did. We didn’t care if the distro had the largest presence or name recognition. Red Hat and Suse were considered. Both are popular and contain a significant commercial back end. At this point one of those two would have been the logical choice. Nonetheless, both Erik and I had some strange mental block towards them. Red Hat and Suse were quickly dismissed. We played with more distro’s and I came to love Yoper. It was cool, fast, elegant - but Yoper lacked the all so important commercial aspect.
And then there was this Ubuntu distro with racy wallpaper. It was enough for us to give it a spin. I loaded it up and couldn’t su to root. What? Hoary didn’t even feature that brilliant wallpaper. Screw it, threw it in the trash. A month or so later we took a closer look. Loaded Hoary on laptops and desktops. We ran through the Unofficial Ubuntu Starter Guide numerous times and quickly came around to the Debian/Ubuntu way. I was also particularly fond of Canonical’s business model. Completely free software backed by commercial support as necessary. As a consultant walking the line of free GNU/Linux and support licensed GNU/Linux, I loved this concept. Ubuntu was the one and our first computers shipped with Ubuntu 5.10 ‘Breezy Badger’.
Behind the System76 Name
I’m often asked of the meaning behind the System76 name. The ‘76′ is a reference to the American Revolution of 1776. We hope that through System76 we can act as great representatives of the open source revolution. Representatives of our Independence from proprietary software.
The System76 Logo
When starting a project it is important to try to determine the challenges that you may face. With GNU/Linux a preconceived notion of complexity was our hurdle. We aimed to overcome this challenge with a clear website, a FAQ to debunk myths, and the ‘76′ of our logo in a television. What could be easier to use than your television?