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Update: Hey dude, could that be Linux on your Dell?

By Todd R. Weiss
February 24, 2007 12:00 PM ET

O'Grady said free Linux distributions such as Ubuntu have matured and "in many respects are equal to [Microsoft] Windows or Macintosh OS X."

Such a configuration won't soon unseat Microsoft's dominance in the marketplace, he said, but there is a maturing market for the combination. "It just depends on how seriously Dell will take the opportunity," O'Grady said. "I don't think it's ridiculous at all."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif., agreed. "I'm an undying optimist where customer choice comes in," he said. And for Dell, which has suffered through a string of disappointing financial quarters and the replacement of CEO Kevin Rollins by company founder Michael Dell, a Linux-loaded laptop line could spark the search for new market share, King said. "Given the company's present state, I think it's critically important to investigate sales opportunities wherever they might be," he said. "I think that anything's worth looking at for Dell."

Tony Iams, an analyst at Ideas International in Rye Brook, N.Y., said the question for Dell is whether there is enough critical mass to justify the investment. "This can be an opportunity for Dell to pick up some incremental business, to pick up some users who have this interest," Iams said. "They do exist. Dell is trying to come up with some new opportunities, so it makes sense that they would attempt this."

At least one analyst urged caution. "You have to take this with a grain of salt," because many of the people posting to the Dell site might have a predisposition for anti-establishment ideas and trends, said Mark Margevichius, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "I'm not sure it's the marketplace at large. Nonetheless, they have struck a nerve."

The bottom line, he said, is that "if it makes sense for Dell's business to partner with the Linux industry or anyone else, they'd do it. If Dell could sell Mac OS X on Dell hardware, they would do it, if they could sell more."

Caroline Dietz, a Dell spokeswoman, said the company will continue to review the ideas floated on the IdeaStorm site and adopt them as it sees fit. "We're constantly evaluating our client products market for customer demand and a clear preference. Dell has seen over the last few years that there have been meaningful improvements in ease of use and function with Linux."

A Microsoft spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Read more about Linux and Unix in Computerworld's Linux and Unix Topic Center.

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