This Summer, Lenovo will unleash a trio of new ThinkPad laptops powered by Fedora 32. It will be a substantial boost for Linux visibility, and Lenovo’s vocal endorsement is a step in the right direction for establishing desktop Linux as a viable alternative to Windows for creators, developers, and everyone in between. But you probably already knew all this. What you don’t know is the steps Lenovo and Fedora — and by extension Red Hat — are taking to truly treat Linux as a first-class citizen when these systems launch.
I recently interviewed Fedora Project Leader Matthew Miller and Lenovo Senior Linux Software Engineer Mark Pearson about the partnership. Many of the questions I asked were difficult, but many of the answers were surprisingly candid and refreshing.
Let’s start the surprise party with this: ThinkPad customers on Windows 10 enjoy a suite of custom Lenovo apps designed to give users more control over things like CPU core usage, fan control and GPU selection. On Linux we typically rely on 3rd party utilities that may or may not work as intended on our laptops.
So I had to ask if Lenovo plans to introduce comparable software for its Linux customers. I wasn’t expecting this response: “Yep!” Lenovo’s Mark Pearson replied without any hesitation. “Customer experience is really important to Lenovo; it drives a lot of what we do, and those make for better user experience on our platforms. We have some projects going on internally to improve that. We have some Windows features we’ll port to Linux. I can’t answer this specifically, but there will be products releasing and we’ll share those when available.”
I sense your simultaneous excitement and concern. “But will that software be proprietary?” While I can’t comment with certainty, I can tell you that during our interview, Fedora’s Matthew Miller repeatedly emphasized how respectful Lenovo has been to the distribution’s “only open source and community-driven” approach to its operating system.
As a testament to that, Pearson says that should you decide to wipe one of these ThinkPad hard drives and install a clean version of Fedora 32 Workstation, the only difference from what Lenovo ships will be some documentation. No proprietary blobs, no “Lenovo exclusive” software.
But the outlook got even more encouraging when I asked about Linux support for ThinkPad fingerprint readers.
“We’ve been working with the hardware vendors, and making the vendors for the platforms we support Linux on contribute drivers upstream so it goes into the kernel, and the firmware goes onto LVFS,” says Pearson. “Which for Linux users is very important. We worked with Red Hat engineers and Synaptics, so the fingerprint reader on the [new Fedora ThinkPad] models we’re launching does work. The firmware right now is in testing status, but it’s going to go stable really soon.”
Surely, though, Linux users will struggle with stylus support?
“Same with the stylus, I’ve been working with the Wacom team,” Pearson says. “Obviously it’s important to contribute upstream, and then it all comes down into the distros. Working with Fedora helps that happen.”
This means if you buy a new ThinkPad P1 Gen2, ThinkPad P53, or ThinkPad X1 Gen8 this summer and decide to install something other than Fedora 32 Workstation, components like the fingerprin sensor and stylus are going to work thanks to the collaborative efforts of Red Hat, Lenovo and Fedora.
“That’s kind of the point,” Pearson says. “We all want Linux to be better.”