Dell capitulates to Linux fanbois (and key study)

Thank [deity] it's Friday's IT Blogwatch: in which Dell agrees to sell pre-installed Linux PCs. Not to mention how you can tell a person's language of choice by looking at their keyboard...

Todd "don't call me Janet" Weiss reports:

After floating the possibility last month that it might begin selling some of its laptops and desktop PCs preloaded with Linux, Dell Inc. today said that it will definitely offer Linux on select desktop and notebook computers due to consumer demand ... Dell said it will provide specific models and details about the configurations and Linux versions offered in the next few weeks.

Two weeks ago, Dell unveiled an online survey that asked prospective buyers what they would buy if Dell once again offered Linux-loaded machines for sale. The survey received more than 100,000 responses, according to the company. More than than 70% of the respondents said they would use a Linux-loaded Dell system for both home and office use and said that existing community-based forums would meet their technical support needs for a tested and validated Linux operating system, according to the company. The respondents also said that improved hardware support for Linux is as important as the distributions that will be offered.

Ryan Block chants, "Show me the money":

Dell, oddly enough, is listening to the many thousands of direct requests its customers made during its big public brainstorm (aka IdeaStorm) not so far back ... hoorah! What we're most curious about: when going to configure your system, how much money will one save by ducking out of the "Microsoft tax"? No word on when we'll get to find out what the magic number is, but we imagine the Linux rollover won't be immediate since Dell still has some serious work to do not only with the driver and software end of things to make future machines fully open-source, but also prepping and training its end-user support staff to get Linux-compatible, as it were.

Joe Weisenthal says it makes sense:

For one thing, Dell has always touted itself as having the most customizable computers, so giving users their choice of operating systems would seem to fit with the company's ethos. A more important factor may have been the growing Microsoft tax. As many people have pointed out, as hardware prices continue to drop, proprietary software accounts for a larger and larger slice of the cost of a computer. Thus it makes sense for computer makers, which compete intensely on cost, to offer equivalent solutions that don't require them to hand a big chunk over to Microsoft. Dell's entry into the desktop Linux market probably won't do a whole lot to stem its recent woes, but the company needs all the help it can get as it deals with a surging HP, and a computer market that isn't seeing any tailwind from the release of Vista.

Jason Kolb thinks wishfully:

I think this is the beginning of the end for Microsoft.  Once people see a price difference on the system list between the Windows and Linux desktops, they're slowly but surely going to start the migration to the cheaper alternative. This will result in pressure being put on all the major manufacturers and distributors to start shipping Linux desktops as well, or they will lose that business to Dell (and create one hell of a marketing opportunity for Dell until they close that gap). This will result in a lot more facetime for Linux with the average user, which will result in the price increase for a Windows system becoming even harder to swallow, which will result in more market share, and so on until Windows dies.

I wonder if the guys at the top of Microsoft are looking at this and REALLY trying to figure how to respond long-term, or they are just being pissed and strategizing about toilet papering Michael Dell's house.  They can't strong-arm shelf space anymore, their arms are being chopped off.

But Dwight Silverman wonders, "Who actually cares?":

Who's really going to buy these machines? Most individual Linux users are used to installing and tweaking their own distros. They seem to be almost proud of the pain they endure in doing so -- like guys in the '50s who spent hours getting their old cars to run right, it's a badge of honor to Linux fans that they must tinker under the hood.

I think Linux users love the idea of a company like Dell offering pre-installed Linux because it validates their choice of operating system. I suspect most will sit back and say, "Good, now the whole world can enjoy the wonder that is Linux," but they won't buy these machines themselves. They'll continue to build their own systems and roll their own configurations, and recommend the Dell boxes to their less-savvy friends neighbors, who'll end up buying Windows and Mac systems anyway.

I can see businesses that have standardized on Linux possibly being interested in pre-loaded systems. On the other hand, many large IT shops have their own customized disk images and may not want cookie-cutter Linux, either.

Giovanni Rodriguez digs deeper:

Bloggers are noting that the idea got lots of play last month when Dell launched its IdeaStorm site, but not much has been written about what this means for co-design. The concept, popularized by Patty Seybold, is that a company can set up a customer site to collaborate on product direction and design. That's the driving principal behind IdeaStorm. And what's really interesting to me is that the first newsworthy result from this project is "Linux on Dells," something that many people have been clamoring for, long before IdeaStorm. But it appears that co-design has legitimized this inevitable move for Dell.

Jim March figures Dell will use the next Ubuntu release:

I've been playing with the late alpha (Herd5) Feisty and now beta and lemme tell you, saying it's got "potential" is an understatement. WiFi support is worlds better, hardware autodetection is improved and the new auto-installer for codecs as they're needed flat-out rocks.

As long as you're not doing RAID and you're cautious about 3D desktop stuff, Feisty Beta is really ready to now for semi-experienced Linux users and has strong potential as "The Chosen One" of distros. It should eat significant market share as people with older Win98 boxes are forced to upgrade to *something* due to lack of ongoing security support. And it'll tempt a lot of XP folk disgusted with malware issues. This has to be Dell's top choice and it's due for production release late April '07.

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Languages By Keyboard

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at No "Dell dude" jokes were harmed in the making of this page.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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