I've been out of the laptop market forever but I'm heading to college next semester. What's the cheapest thing possible that I can carry around easily with a decent battery life? I'm probably going to just be running a Linux OS on it so it doesn't have to be some sort of beast at all. I don't do much gaming(I don't like it in the ass), and I'll mostly use it for light web browsing and compiling shit.
Yes. You can put Linux on a Surface Pro as long as it's not a Pro 4, support is very bad for that. I believe 1 is the easiest to run it on, but it has a not so great battery life so the 3 might be something you might want to look into (unless you don't care for battery life, in which case the 1 has the best support).
Chromebooks can run normal Linux, both ARM and Intel variants.
There's three main options:
1) Get an old thinkpad like an x220 or T60
Pros: Cheap, not Intel ME backdoored, light, Stallman will be proud
2) Get a recently released Ultrabook, if you can't wait another few months get the XPS 13 9350 (late 2015, comes with Windows), otherwise wait and get the XPS 13 (early 2016) Developer Edition which will be the same as the first XPS but come preinstalled with Ubuntu (wipe that shit and install your own Distro, even if you want Ubuntu, reinstall at least). I reccommend you get the second lowest tier, 1080p non-touch with i5.
If you don't want an XPS 13 look at the X1 Carbon, a viable alternative.
3: Get a MBP
All the ones I found online are around 4GB of RAM, so I'd need to throw at least another 4GB in there. Still looks like a very rugged and powerful laptop for the price. Also free as in freedom ;)