Interview With The Kubuntu Focus Team

A little while I ago I reviewed the rather powerful Kubuntu Focus laptop. I spent roughly a week using it as my primary device to get a feel for what it would be like owning the laptop. I used it perform all of the tasks I expect from a computer. You can watch parts one and two of my review which I posted over on my YouTube channel.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Michael S. Mikowski who is the founder of MindShareManagement and is the project manager for Kubuntu Focus. He and the team behind the Kubuntu Focus have answered some questions put forth by me over email. Michael also recently appeared on the BigDaddyLinux YouTube channel alongside Rick Timmis which you can watch here.

1) What made you decide to create the Kubuntu Focus laptop?

 We created the Focus to provide all the features we’ve always wanted in a Linux laptop but couldn’t get elsewhere:  End-to-end workflows; same-day service; optimized performance, features, and reliability; and a beautiful KDE desktop. We have decades of experience managing Linux teams in areas such as CAE, 3D modeling, animation, AI, and advertising platforms, so we know what engineering managers want and need.

Sometimes regardless of what we do the world moves around us. Great examples include the rise of AI and the emergence of Nvidia as a leader in GPU accelerated deep learning; the evolution of Linux as the most popular execution environment for nearly all computing devices; the need for more powerful work-from-home devices; and the fantastic evolution and maturity of the KDE desktop.  These changes are all bigger than any individual. However, we can embrace them and become part of the future. That’s what we feel we have done with the Focus.

2) How long in the making was it starting from when you got the initial idea to the day of release ?

We began shipping around 20 weeks after initial discussions began. We negotiated agreements with Canonical and the ODM and concurrently worked on the product goals, specifications, and features. We also began work with development devices. Some things take a lot longer than one might expect.  The Kubuntu emblem on the lid, for example, requires at least 8 different manufacturing steps and multiple hours before it’s ready to be affixed. No wonder others use stickers.

3) Was the original idea always going to be using Kubuntu as the distribution?

Yes! Kubuntu is a great distribution and we want to help make it better. Other OEMs push their own distributions on their hardware which we think is a shame.
Instead of reinventing wheels, we give back to the community and add value where others haven’t before. We’d rather help make Kubuntu and KDE even better by sharing our improvements up-stream. That’s an important aspect of the Kubuntu Focus. 

4) How close are you to the Kubuntu team and how involved are they?

We are quite close and both Kubuntu and KDE are substantially involved. The Council and KDE both received pre-production units of the Focus months before release and they have driven many feature decisions.  We have a standing weekly meeting with representatives from Kubuntu, MindShare, KDE, and Tuxedo. We share emails within these groups at least a couple of times per week.

The Focus is highlighted hardware on both and We really owe both of them a lot for their fantastic support and participation. The Focus Team is scheduled to present at the upcoming Akademy.  And of course we support Kubuntu (and by extension, KDE) with 2% of each sale. This works out to nearly 10% of the gross margin, so this is indeed quite substantial.

5) How large is the Kubuntu Focus Team?

There are currently 12 people world-wide working full or part-time or attached as an adviser on the Focus project. Areas of expertise include legal, R&D, deep-learning, software packaging, procurement, assembly, logistics, e-commerce, and marketing.  We are professionally managed and have policy and procedures for each of these functions.

6) Do you feel like you are competing with any other vendors in this space?

Sure, but we aren’t selling to the Linux faithful – that’s a saturated market. Over 75% of our customers are moving from non-Linux OSes, and that trend appears to be accelerating. That’s because we provide the features and support customers and organizations need to make the switch with confidence.

7) Is there a plan to release any different models of laptops that ship with the Kubuntu Focus experience?

Yes, but don’t expect dozens. We’d rather focus on a few models that are constantly optimized and maintained so that everybody wants them. Consider for example power tuning. When we first loaded Kubuntu on our laptop chassis we got 2 hours of battery at idle.  We made dozens of adjustments over numerous months so now it gets 6 hours at idle. These are not trivial adjustments, and doing this over numerous models is very time consuming and expensive.

8) Are there plans to work with other laptop manufacturers aside from Tuxedo Computers?

Possibly, but we can’t share any details yet. 

9) So I create content for my YouTube channel. Why should a content creator like myself purchase the Kubuntu Focus and not windows or Mac based laptop?

  • It just works. Turn it on and it’s ready to go with all updates applied.  You can open up KDEnlive immediately, download video off an SDCard or KDEConnect, tweak audio with Audacity, and start editing.  We make sure all the software needed for the workflow is installed and tested.  This is the sort of thing that you don’t notice unless it’s missing. And when you buy a Mac, a W10, or another pre-loaded Linux system, many packages and subsystems are missing.  We strive to provide the best just-works, tested workflows our customers want and need.
  • It supports multiple solutions. We’re pragmatic and accept that the best solutions for some people aren’t always open source. Commercial alternatives to KDEnlive – like LightWorks and Davinci Resolve – are worth paying for if video editing is what you do for a living. The same goes for digital audio workstations like Reaper (which we have tested extensively and highly recommend). The reason the Focus runs TensorFlow 20-25x faster than a Mac is because – unlike the Mac – it uses the best GPU available.  A Laptop that runs native Linux with a few proprietary tools is far better in our opinion than a remotely-controlled proprietary OS.
  • It provides LTS reliability.  Our customers are professionals that need to get their jobs done and can’t afford to bleed on the bleeding edge. That’s why the Focus ships only with stable LTS releases. This also maximizes compatibility with Cloud containers. Users can upgrade when they want on their schedule instead having their device remotely controlled by a faceless corporation and a 16-page EULA.
  • It is more secure than either MacOS or W10. Almost all packages come from signed repositories, not a downloaded file from a web search.  Viruses are almost unheard of, and we add features like YubiKey and Full Disk Encryption to keep customer data extra-secure.

10) Why might a user benefit from buying the Kubuntu Focus and not a comparable laptop and installing a distribution of their own?

Most developers don’t have the time or resources to optimize like the Focus. We’ve invested many months of development on optimizing the Focus, and the effort is on-going. All executables (Bash, Perl, JS, C, Python) and configuration files are created with best practice like TDD, linting, code inspections, and SCMS. They are also 100% reproducible and automatically distributed to a wide body of users through signed packages.  We can’t afford to break things and “just live with it” like an individual often does. For all these reasons, the Focus optimizations are almost guaranteed to be better and more complete.

We believe our customers are much better served buying a Focus and benefiting from these ongoing optimizations than trying to save $200 and foregoing the warranty and support.  That’s the epitome of penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Instead, buy Linux supported hardware.

11) How do you wish to expand your support to the enterprise market?

We have all the systems in-place to provide enterprises what they need: End-to-end workflows; same-day service; optimized performance, features, and reliability; and a beautiful KDE desktop. Our key challenge is effectively communicating to developers and companies that this is a solution they didn’t know they needed. We have taken a unique approach and it appears to be working very well.

The performance advantages of the Focus means that developers can iterate faster or much faster while also enjoying the most of the enterprise features and support they’ve come to expect on other platforms.  The near-100% compatibility to deployment environments saves time and trouble in so many ways. 

Using Kubuntu means work completed on the desktop can transfer directly to deployment — no more rewriting scripts developed on an ancient Bash shell and BSD tools to work on Linux.  Production level tools are installed in seconds and run at their full potential and are representative of production. Tensor Flows jobs run between 20-25 times (2,500%) faster on a Focus versus the most expensive MBP; some NodeJS jobs run up to 30 times (3,000%) faster than on W10. And while the performance deltas aren’t so great in other areas, they almost always favor the Focus.  For example, SQLite is usually “only” 200% faster on Linux versus W10 or 400% faster than WSL.  These differences add up!

Why should companies pay every developer to create a Linux-like environment? Or, conversely, why should they pay every developer to tweak their Linux laptops to improve mobile usability? The results in both cases are almost always the same: systems that no one can recreate because the developers don’t have time to carefully build, document, and test each solution – instead they monkey-patch, get back to work, and forget about it.  

The Kubuntu Focus eliminates these costs and worries for companies and users. Just press the power button and go.  We think that’s a compelling message.

There we have it! If you’re interested in the Kubuntu Focus be sure to check out their website and tell them Tyler sent you 😉

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