This article explaining the right way of choosing a Linux laptop effectively demonstrates a few things. First, it can be done. Buying a new laptop that is compatible is not the massive challenge it once was years ago. I am typing this on a newer Asus Eee which came with Windows 7 installed. I removed it, installed Ubuntu and I am running with all of the same features I would have expected from Windows. This includes the built-in webcam.
The above article also does a splendid show providing users with an idea of which wireless chipsets you want to seek out. I am still on the fence about the blind support for Broadcom, regardless of their recent “embrace” of Linux. Screw me once, shame on me. Screw me twice, shame on me. Assuming the user can decide on which distro best meets their needs, the next step is to consider video and audio. In most cases, there is no problem here. But in some cases video can be a hassle with select older VIA video chipsets thanks to an unresolved bug with OpenChrome.
Speaking for myself, if I was recommending a new laptop for a new Linux user, the choice is painfully clear. Buy the laptop with Linux preinstalled. Seriously, why buy a product with Made for Windows stickers when you can get one that will work perfectly out of the box?