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A year later, sales of Linux on Dell computers continue to grow

Sales figures not released, but program is thriving, Dell says

By Todd R. Weiss
April 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As Dell Inc. approaches its one-year anniversary of selling laptop and desktop computers preloaded with Ubuntu Linux, the company is continuing to expand the fledgling program to new computer models and markets.

In interviews at Dell's Parmer campus north of Austin last week, four Dell representatives said sales of the Linux-loaded machines are encouraging.

Though they declined to give sales figures for the Linux-equipped machines, the Dell officials were adamant in saying that the program wouldn't be continuing or adding new models if the sales figures were not adequate.

"A [sales] number is not going to validate it as much as our actions to date," which include adding new models and configurations, said company spokeswoman Anne Camden.

Dell first offered Linux on its machines in 1999, when it installed Red Hat Linux on a selection of Dell servers, said Matt Domsch, the company's Linux technology strategist in the CTO's office. A short time later, Dell tried selling consumer-focused laptops with Red Hat Linux, but the effort was not sustained due to inadequate demand.

Dell has continued to sell enterprise servers with Linux since that 1999 debut, Domsch said. The recent Linux-on-Dell program for laptops and desktop machines, however, has been gaining momentum, he said. "If the program wasn't successful, we wouldn't be able to continue it," Domsch said.

The machines can be configured and ordered at the company's Dell and Linux Web page. In January, Dell announced another Linux-loaded laptop machine, with a host of high-performance features.

The Linux-on-Dell idea emerged in February 2007, after CEO Michael Dell debuted a new company-hosted blog called IdeaStorm, where customer could offer ideas and input on prospective new products and services. More than 100,000 people posted comments about wanting to see the company sell computers straight from the factory with Linux preloaded.

Ten weeks later, in May last year, Dell announced that it would begin selling Linux-loaded machines to consumers and businesses.

So far, Dell hasn't advertised Linux on its machines in consumer advertising campaigns; rather, it's relying on open-source enthusiasts seeking out the machines on the Dell site. Those people are often the same ones who suggested the combination in the first place.

"Those who care, know" that Dell is selling the machines, said Russ Ray, a Dell product marketing representative. "If you know Linux, you're going to know we sell Dell products with Linux on them."

Consumer-focused ads featuring Linux on Dell could appear at some point, Ray said, but it's not critical to the company. "I think that will occur when there's a reason for that to occur," he said. "We would like to get to a place where to some degree, it really doesn't matter" to consumers which operating system is on the machines.

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