Linux users are a discerning bunch. Part of the reason they choose this operating system is because they like things just so. Open source software allows them to tweak things to achieve that. It follows that they might be the same way in other areas of their lives, which means they’re probably difficult to buy gifts for.
With the holidays coming up, you may be a little nervous deciding what to get for the Linux lover in your life.
Below we’ve gathered some Linux gifts ideas for any budget. Because if there’s one thing Linuxers love, its when someone new joins the team. We’ve got ideas for every budget below to delight the Linux fan on your gift list. We’ll look at these in four main budget categories: Stocking Stuffers, then Small, Medium, and Large Gifts.
1. Stocking Stuffers
- How much? From roughly $5 to $15
- What to get? Stickers, Mugs, Pins, etc.
- Where to get it? UnixStickers, Redbubble
A great way to kick off holiday mornings is with the little things that let your giftee proclaim his or her love of Linux. It’s common to find stickers of the various Linux flavors (distributions) on the lids of laptops. (Especially when they cover up the big, glowing logos of non-open companies.) Unixstickers.com is where you should start, as they specialize in items related to open source operating systems and programs.
You can find stickers representing just about everything in the world of open source. From the OS itself (such as Debian, shown in the below image, top left) and FreeBSD (top center), to applications like Emacs (top right) or VLC (bottom left), many choices are there. Even niche projects like programming languages (Ruby, bottom center) and CMSes (Drupal, bottom right) are available.
2. Small Gifts
- How much? From roughly $15 to $30
- What to get? Apparel (e.g. shirts and sweatshirts)
- Where to get it? Redbubble, Zazzle, CafePress
In addition to laptop lids and desk surfaces, your giftee’s person is another place he or she can show support. Specifically, by hanging branded clothing on it. Two of the sites above, Zazzle and Redbubble, have a wide selection of t-shirts. For example, the below image shows shirts from Zazzle for those who love classic Tux (below left), like to live dangerously with the sudo command (below center), and frequent one of the original open source news sites (Slashdot, below right).
Now that the weather’s getting colder there’s also heavier wear, such as Redbubble’s Docker sweatshirt (below left), Raspberry Pi hoodie (below center), and PHP zippy (below right).
- How much? From roughly $30 to $100
- What to get? Windows apps and the software to make it run on Linux, native Linux games, Raspberry Pi devices and accessories
- Where to get it? Steam, GoG, Raspberry Pi
3. Get Windows Software Running on Linux
This price range is a little tricky, as it captures many paid software titles. Some proprietary apps run natively on Linux, but certainly not all of them. Also, Linux users also have a huge selection of free software available, and they’re just a couple of commands away. But if you know of a Windows app that your recipient absolutely needs, you can help “gift” it to them by helping them to get it running on Linux using one of the following methods:
- Firstly, you could check to see if the app is compatible with Wine, a software package that helps Linux run Windows programs. Codeweavers’ Crossover for Linux is a paid version of the Wine software that’s particularly easy to install and use. It also boasts a large selection of compatible Windows titles. So check to see if the app(s) your recipient wants are compatible, then pick them up a Crossover license (which is also in this price range, $59.95 for one year of supports and updates).
- There is also a free program similar to Crossover called PlayOnLinux. You can simply gift them the Windows app, at which point they can install it themselves with PlayOnLinux. Supported programs (like Microsoft Office 2010 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) should install via point and click. Others may not be as simple, but can still work with some manual tweaking.
- Alternately, you could set them up with a copy of Windows to install on a virtual machine. This is a layer of software that essentially looks like another computer inside your computer. Your recipient can install Windows on this virtual computer, and then any software that is compatible with Windows.
4. Native Linux Games
On the other hand, software’s compatibility with Linux has improved quite a bit in the last couple years, especially in one area that fits this price category: games! If your giftee is a game fanatic, there are two great sources for games that run on Linux, no software wizardry required. The first is Steam, and if your recipient is a gamer he or she is probably on Steam already.
You can check the list of games here that play natively on Linux (we outlined a number of them last year in this article). Now, the selection is tilted a bit towards indie and small publisher games when compared to Windows. But there are top titles available, such as Rocket League, the latest installment of Civilization, and entries in the Borderlands series. Once you have the game in your sights, getting it to your giftee is as easy as purchasing a Steam gift card.
While Steam is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in game distribution, Linux users revel on choice. Another game store catering to the Linux crowd is GoG.com, which boasts titles that are free of digital rights management (DRM). Like Steam, it also supports Windows games, and the selection of Linux games is smaller and trends towards smaller publishers. But GoG does carry popular titles, most notably Witcher 2, Baldur’s Gate (the Enhanced versions of the original as well as the sequel), and Shovel Knight.
Buying these games for your giftee takes a few more steps, as GoG doesn’t currently offer gift cards. They do, however, allow you to select “Gift this order,” which lets you load up your cart and bestow it upon your Linux supporter. It does require that you both have GoG accounts, so this is an excellent present if you’re both avid gamers already on the service.
5. Raspberry Pi
One last gift idea for this budget is the Raspberry Pi, an eminently affordable, hackable, and customizable computer board (shown in the above image). It looks barebones, but that’s exactly the point. Your giftee can take this tiny computer system and turn it into any of a number of projects, including:
Best of all, both the RPi as well as many of its accessories are within this price range. You can get a full starter kit including the Pi itself, a case, a power cord, heat sinks, and a 32 GB storage card for just $69.99. Other add-ons such as touch displays or camera modules can be had within this budget from vendors like Amazon or Adafruit.
After they open it, consider directing your giftee to our Unofficial Tutorial on the RPi as a starting point for their hardware hacking.
- How much? From $100 and up
- What to get? Linux desktops, Linux Laptops, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes
- Where to get it? Dell, System76, ZaReason, Asus, Acer
When it comes to Big Gifts, you’re probably looking at a pretty big jump in budget. Other ecosystems have some moderately-priced devices, including things like Android tablets and (some) iPads. But for a full-on Linux gift, you’re talking about getting your recipient one of the systems with Linux pre-installed.
6. Linux Desktops
There are desktop systems available that go as low as $99. These less expensive machines have weaker processors, less RAM, and less storage. This is OK though, as Linux arguably runs better on fewer resources than Windows. The lower-end systems are likely to be the “mini-PC” form factor (shown below at left) that’s compact, but limits expansion. More expensive systems can run $1,000 or more, but these are generally beasts intended as workstations (an example is shown below at right). In other words, your giftee will love them.
As far as distribution choice, you can configure Dell’s recently-releasted Precision 5720 system with either Red Hat or Ubuntu. Two smaller manufacturers also offer desktop systems: System76 pre-installs a home-spun OS called Pop!_OS (which we recently examined), while ZaReason will install your giftee’s choice of Linux flavor when you order.
7. Linux Laptops
If you’ve got the money to spend, you can also consider Linux laptops. All three of the companies above (in addition to some others) offer laptop models ranging from big, chunky developer machines (like ZaReason’s Verix 7220, shown below at right) to svelte ultrabooks. And they all come with Linux pre-installed. We’ve looked at one of the offerings from System76 in the past (an older model, but the conclusion was very positive), and this author is very happy with Dell’s XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop (shown below at left).
Now, there is a very budget-conscious Linux laptop that MUO reviewed recently. We found the Pinebook to be something that definitely comes with some compromises. But at a price tag of just under $100, it’s an option for a mobile companion device that runs honest-to-goodness Linux.
8. Chromebooks and Chromeboxes
If these systems aren’t quite what you can do budget-wise, a Chromebook or Chromebox is a great compromise. Google’s Chrome OS is Linux at its heart, and it eschews many of the proprietary systems and applications that many Linux lovers dislike. Even more “premium” devices of the bunch such as Asus Aaluminum Flip C101 or Acer Chromebook 14 are reasonably priced. Depending on retailer, you can pick them up for around $300 and $260, respectively. Chromeboxes are the desktop equivalents, although to be frank they don’t offer that much of a price savings from most Chromebooks, so why not get the portability? Best of all, there is a clever bit of software called Crouton that allows users to install real Linux right alongside Chrome OS. So in that regard these might be the Linux laptops that give the best bang for the buck.
Treat Your Giftees to All the Linux Things
We hope this list will provide you some ideas for the Linux fan on your Christmas list. Armed with the knowledge of what OS or applications your giftee likes, you can go to many of the above outlets and pick up smaller items immediately. Some of the larger-ticket items may require subtle probing about your recipient’s likes and dislikes. But with a bit of detective work you can pick out the perfect option for that big gift under the tree.
Do you have any die-hard Linux fans in your life? Have you ever managed to buy them a Linux-related gift they absolutely loved? Give us your stories, tips, and ideas in the comments below!