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Dell's 'Brilliant' Windows vs. Ubuntu Analysis

By Katherine Noyes
Jul 26, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Here in the Linux community, we're already pretty accustomed to strange behavior from hardware vendors when it comes to our favorite operating system. Sometimes, though, you just have to sit back and scratch your head.

Dell's 'Brilliant' Windows vs. Ubuntu Analysis

The latest example? None other than Dell. After the curious case of its disappearing "love letter" to Linux a few weeks ago, the Texas titan's UK site recently posted something that may be even more mystifying: a guide to helping customers choose between Windows and Ubuntu.

"Choose UBUNTU if you do not plan to use Microsoft WINDOWS," the helpful site reads. Similarly, it recommends the distro for those who are "interested in open source programming."

That, pretty much, is where the list ends.


Who should choose Windows? Well, where to begin? Dell's answer: Those who "are already using WINDOWS programs (e.g. Microsoft Office, ITunes etc) and want to continue using them"; who "are familiar with WINDOWS and do not want to learn new programs for email, word processing etc"; and those who "are new to using computers."

Hear that rumbling sound in the distance? It's the thundering hooves of the Linux masses in a full-fledged stampede to have their say.

"Brilliant," was the verdict of blogger Barence on Slashdot, for example, where more than 700 comments had appeared by Friday.

'Really Informative, Guys'

Similarly, "I'm amused by the fact that Dell's #1 reason people would want to use Ubuntu is that they do not plan to use Windows," agreed Kepesk. "Really informative, guys. Great job.

"If they were really interested in marketing Ubuntu, they might have displayed at least one actual reason they might want to get it that didn't involve terms like 'open-source programming,' which most people don't understand," Kepesk added.

"I love the way the Windows screen shot shows the control panel as if Windows' strong point is configurability," noted philipborlin. "Contrast that with the Ubuntu screen shot which shows installed games as if Ubuntu's strength is its games."

And again: "BTW, people using OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird etc don't have to learn new programs," alexhs chimed in.

Of course, there's always a bright side: "at least Ubuntu gets mentioned, and it's not only the classic 'Dell recommends Microsoft Windows operating system,'" jones_supa cheerfully pointed out.

'Linux Is No More Difficult'

Now, elsewhere on the Linux blogs just a few weeks ago, the HeliOS Project's Ken Starks was demonstrating the ease with which Linux can be learned -- even by significant others who are accustomed to Windows and who are *not* particularly interested in open source programming.

So what's with Dell's weird stance? Is something, perchance, rotten in the state of Texas -- or maybe (pinky to mouth)... Washington?

"There is no possible way that this happened without some kind of pressure from Microsoft," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl. "The simple truth is that Linux is no more difficult for the first-time computer user to apprehend than Windows; indeed, it shamelessly copies all the best features of Windows!"

'There Is No Price Differentiation'

Similarly, "it's quite evident that Microsoft has put some sort of pressure on Dell to keep Ubuntu off of their pull down with even a $50 modifier," Slashdot blogger eldavojohn agreed.

As of Friday, eldavojohn could find only "two laptops from Dell that have Ubuntu on them," he pointed out. "Those are the only computers they sell with Ubuntu."

Furthermore, "there is no price differentiation between Ubuntu and Windows when you purchase either of these laptops," he noted. "So right there you're missing the obvious immediate reward a user gets when they climb the learning curve: it's completely free."

'Pulling the Wool Over the Public's Eyes'

While "Linux has a learning curve, it's not that much larger than switching from Windows XP to Windows 7 -- you'll notice that Dell has bent over backwards to help people with that transition," eldavojohn added. "Why no support for the user who wishes to make the leap to open source?" Linux is "no different than a lot of other really complex software," he explained. "Yes, it takes a while to learn the tool, but you end up with immense power. Your average person doesn't realize or appreciate the amount of time they've invested in 'learning Windows' mentality.

"The marketing drones at Dell and Microsoft facilitate this by pulling the wool over the public's eyes in order to move product," he concluded.

'Up and Running in Less Than One Hour'

Slashdot blogger yagu used an analogy from the world of cars.

"Is driving a stick-shift too hard to learn? It may depend on what you need, what you experience, what you want," yagu explained. "Driving a stick-shift, once learned, is a different experience than driving automatic. But, it is FUN! You have a deeper sense of what the car does, how it does it, and you have more control over the ebb and flow of the power underneath."

Linux is much like the stick-shift, yagu asserted: "It takes a (small) investment of time and effort to learn."

Once learned, though, it's not only fun, but "you know more about computers if you so wish and have more control over how and what your computer does," he said.

"The nice thing for Linux is that it's a continuum," yagu concluded. "You don't have to dig deep to be proficient, and I submit you can be up and running as proficiently as you were in Windows in less than one hour."

'Dell, How Much Is M$ Paying You?'

Dell's "strange behavior to discourage sales of some of its products with GNU/Linux could have the same cause as some of the strange behavior of Dell to agree not to sell AMD chips at Intel's request," blogger and educator Robert Pogson suggested. "Dell has just settled with the SEC for $100 million. Dell, how much is M$ paying you to promote their OS?

"No wonder these guys are No. 2 -- they don't know how to sell," Pogson asserted.

To actually encourage sales, "you accentuate the positive," he pointed out. In Ubuntu's case, that would mean playing up virtues like:

    "no malware"
    "no phoning home or product codes to type"
    "maintain the operating system and all the applications from a single source with a few clicks"
    "did I mention no malware? no slowing down? no re-re-reboots? It's fast."

"GNU/Linux is certainly no problem for children to learn," Pogson added. "I have turned Grade 1 students loose on it with only a lesson in how to click a mouse."

'Dell Is Just Being Smart'

Of course, here on the Linux blogs, nothing is ever unanimous.

"I would say if you are a programmer, love to read man pages or are a DIYer, then Linux is fine," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted. "If it is NEVER gonna be updated or have any hardware hooked to it, just a 'browser in a box'? Yeah it works fine there.

"But unfortunately, at the slightest bit of trouble, Linux runs back to its CLI server roots like a child running back to mommy," hairyfeet charged. "CLI is fine if you have a degree in CompSci, or don't mind reading tons of forums and searching Google for 'fixes,' but how many folks does that apply to?"

Dell "is just being smart and cutting down on returns," he concluded. "If a geek knows what Linux is, their warning isn't gonna stop them."

'It's an Uphill Battle'

Back to the other hand, "is linux hard to learn? Not for people who are motivated to make the switch, any more than learning to use a Mac," countered Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"However, for the majority of people who think that the clumsiness of Windows is how computers are supposed to work, it's an uphill battle to get them to even look at an alternative," she asserted. "Sort of like trying to teach a class of bored kids when it's 5 minutes before lunch on the last day of school."

A better strategy would be to "get them when they've just found out that they have to do a reformat and re-install, and you'll have a motivated listener," she suggested.

The only remaining reasons for using Windows are "inertia and not wanting to 'waste' that 'free' copy of Windows that they paid for when they bought the machine," Hudson concluded.

"It would be nice to see PCs and laptops sold with a $75 off sticker redeemable at the cash register if you open the box and turn in the Windows activation sticker," she added. "Or, 'your pick -- turn in Windows and we'll double your ram!'"

'Dell Has a Problem'

The bottom line, however, is that "Dell has a problem," Pogson concluded. "They want to be seen to be friendly to GNU/Linux so they have a few products, but they do not have a real campaign to sell GNU/Linux for fear it would offend M$ or their fans.

"I do not know at what point Dell will feel comfortable pushing GNU/Linux, but if they do not hurry others will pass them by," he predicted.

"Other OEMS, not in the top 5, are selling GNU/Linux and growing faster than Dell," Pogson pointed out. "Other OEMs will be selling GNU/Linux on ARM in PCs by next year. Dell, your buddy, M$, cannot even cut and paste on ARM -- how are you going to stay relevant?"

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