My thoughts on the Framework laptop
Like many others in the open source community, I was very intrigued by the idea of the Framework laptop, a modular laptop designed to be repairable and upgradable. With a bunch of designs, schematics and documentation released as open source and a product that's legitimately competitive with the proprietary glue-filled bricks-to-be we've come to know and hate, there's a lot to love today and even more to be hopeful for tomorrow.
That said, this is the perfect laptop for desktop Linux users for more than just positive reasons, because we're used to a bunch of things randomly not working. My very first experience after installing my OS was having my desktop environment constantly freeze. Brightness keys don't work without disabling a kernel module. Power management remains problematic. I'm a professional Linux kernel developer and I still don't want to have to compile my own kernel to try and figure out why my computer is freezing.
I've had my Framework laptop for two weeks now, in the first batch sold in Australia. Very recently, the Marketplace has opened in Australia too, so the majority of parts I might want are now available. This is legitimately really impressive for a young startup, and the Australia Tax isn't too bad, even considering the dismal exchange rate. They have put Valve to shame. Where's my Steam Deck, Gabe? Where is it?
I'm going to be talking about the Framework laptop through the lens of a Linux user - there's a bunch of other perspectives out there if you don't care about that. I do, however, think that there are good reasons to think about the Framework laptop as potentially being someone's first ever Linux computer. This is a product for enthusiasts and a lot of customers are probably people like me who love PCs and want something with some of the benefits of that DIY experience.
This is also a device without a discrete GPU, taking away a lot of people's reservations about switching to Linux - gaming. You can still play games on this thing, but ambitions are limited when it comes to an iGPU, so losing out on a few games due to poor compatibility or lack of support for
kernel-level rootkits anti-cheat DRM isn't as big of a deal. Customers are confronted with paying hundreds of dollars for a Windows license at checkout, and while piracy is always an option, it seems a pretty clear opportunity to try Linux.
Framework touts excellent Linux support - it's something they brag about on their website and while the Linux userbase is small, the crossover with the enthusiast target market for this device is very high. That's great, but from what I've seen Linux seems to be an afterthought for the company, I don't think they have software people on the Linux side like system76 do, and the effort here is almost entirely driven by the community.
It is, of course, a good thing that they think about Linux at all. I just think the brownie points collected for that should be relatively minimal since there's actual financial incentive to do so, and most of the effort isn't coming from the company themselves.
A key benefit for Linux users is that there's a lot of them on this specific device, so if you have an issue, lots of other people have it too and hopefully someone among that group can help you. There are setup guides for major distros and active forums covering much more, which puts the Framework laptop far ahead of its competition.
Imagine I haven't used desktop Linux before, I buy this new laptop because I think it's cool, and a good idea, and a positive step for the industry - and I decide to give Linux a try on this device that everyone says supports it well. I go to their website, install the distribution mentioned at the top of the Linux page, that "works out of the box" with "easy" ease of setup, and I'm ready to start living the penguin lifestyle.
Then I have a bunch of issues, and my computer is locking up constantly, and a bunch of expected features don't work, and I reach for my nearest Windows ISO and scoff at the idea of trying Linux again for at least 5 years.
I've been harping a lot on this hanging thing, but seriously, this can't be something that happens to users of a relatively premium product. It's not Framework's fault per se, it's an Intel 12th gen iGPU issue that is well documented by Framework users on their forum here. Framework launched with 11th gen Intel CPUs and made 12th gen CPUs available for order as complete laptops and upgradable mainboards later.
My point here is that this is the kind of thing someone from within Framework needs to be on top of. That thread about the iGPU bug was posted on July 28th. The first response with a solution didn't come until a month later, and doesn't get laid out in a clear way people can understand until a month after that. This is exactly the kind of thing they should have someone in-house, testing and getting ahead of issues instead of leaving it to their customers.
There's a lot of "don't blame Framework, blame Intel" sentiment in that thread, and while it's absolutely true that it's a flaw in Intel's driver for Intel's hardware, that doesn't matter a whole lot to someone who's just spent a thousand dollars on a laptop that advertises strong Linux support. Framework is both lifted up and brought down by the many contributing parts of the Linux ecosystem, credit can't only be given for the positives.
The issues don't stop there. You get to pick between brightness keys and the ambient light sensor. I have to turn the WiFi off and on to fix my connection, and I had a separate iGPU issue in a game that I could find no existing documentation for, that I spent ages debugging including building my own kernels with additional debugging as well as trying different firmware versions before giving up and hacking around it by changing graphics API in my game.
I've experienced my fair share of jank when it comes to running Linux on laptops, but I genuinely think the out-of-box experience of the Framework laptop is worse than anything I've ever seen in over a decade of Lenovo laptops. That's courtesy of Intel drivers, but again, where the blame lies doesn't matter a whole lot to someone who was excited to start using their new laptop.
I like my new laptop. I think it's awesome. I'm hoping it's the only laptop I need for a very long time, and that I can upgrade stuff as I go and keep it running. Now that I've sufficiently tinkered around I have it working great, and the only thing that's actively annoying me day-to-day is their objectively incorrect choice of a Ctrl/Fn/Super/Alt layout instead of Fn/Ctrl/Super/Alt (and the fan is a little loud).
But - and it's a big but - I've been training for this for literally decades. My first Year Of The Linux Desktop was 2007 and I've lived through every Year Of The Linux Desktop since. In the last 7 years of that time I've been a full-time Linux kernel developer. If I'm complaining about the amount of effort it took to make this laptop functional, then the average user is boned.
Community support is great, and Framework is a business that relies hugely on its community. But the community isn't there when you're 6 months out from a product launch to test the latest upstream kernel and see if there's issues. The community isn't prepared on launch day to clearly advise on any necessary workarounds. The community isn't there when there's meetings about which hardware to use in future products and what would be best for compatibility.
If you're reading this you're probably the kind of person who should buy a Framework laptop, and my very unlucky experience of running into a bunch of (mostly) Intel 12th gen specific issues shouldn't dissuade you (though you should maybe try and get an 11th gen product, they're cheaper and the performance difference is minimal). If you're a competing laptop manufacturer, you should be afraid that there's a product competitive on price, build quality and performance that won't be glossed over as future e-waste by prosumers. If you're Framework, please just hire a dedicated Linux person, preferably a kernel developer.
See additional discussion on Reddit and Hacker News, and I shared this on Twitter too. If anyone wants to chat, hit Reddit/Twitter/email. Thanks!