Dell’s Increasingly Excellent Linux Adventures

The weather outside may be frightful, to adapt a phrase for the scorched and overheated world here in the Northern hemisphere, but there’s no denying that July is turning out to be delightful for our favorite operating system.

Not only did Linux get a heaping helping of recognition in the big Higgs Boson announcement recently, but we also saw MeeGo make an exciting new comeback in the mobile world.

Then, of course, there’s the growing crack in the castle wall in Redmond.

Those items alone have surely been enough to lift even the most dour Linux fan’s spirits, but there’s more! Yes indeed, the latest news now is the apparent return of none other than Dell to the desktop Linux world.

‘Project Sputnik’

First there was Project Sputnik, which was launched as a pilot project in May but just recently graduated and became a real, working product plan.

The result: Coming from Dell this fall will be a developer-oriented laptop preloaded with Ubuntu Linux “Precise Pangolin.”

Hitting the news wires more recently, meanwhile, is word that Dell is venturing even deeper back into the Linux waters with laptops featuring Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well.

Have Linux bloggers been pleased? Let’s just say that more than a few tables have been danced upon in recent days down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge.

Linux Girl stopped dancing just long enough to take a small poll.

‘I Think It’s Great’

“It’s nice to see Dell trying, again,” opined Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza. “With the average user spending most of their time in Chrome, which is now the supported source of flash on Linux, there’s less reason than ever before to avoid it.”

Ideally, “I’d like to see them offer at least three options so that we can see what the market really wants: a Mini and a loaded-for-bear system are what I’d add to pad the lineup,” Espinoza said.

Indeed, “I think it’s great that a prominent OEM like Dell is releasing a Linux based laptop,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “I think they all should, and they should market those computers to the general population.”

‘Marketing Could Be the Tipping Point’

The average consumer would surely be interested in Linux’s many advantages “if only they knew about them,” Linux Rants said.

In fact, “marketing from OEMs could be the tipping point to the same old Catch 22 we always find ourselves in: No one uses Linux because their software isn’t available (and they don’t want to switch to alternatives), but their software isn’t available because not enough people use Linux,” he suggested.

The main downside associated with Project Sputnik “is that Dell is marketing the laptop to the segment of the population that would just take a regular laptop and reimage it with Linux anyway,” Linux Rants pointed out. “I hope this project will be just one of the first in a long line of Linux based products from multiple OEMs.”

‘Dell Has to Compete’

Actually, Dell never stopped shipping GNU/Linux PCs, blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl.

“They are selling in 1K+ retail stores in China and India,” he noted. “In Brazil, in Walmart, where Dell sells only one PC with ‘7,’ Positivo, a Brazilian company, sells 21 PCs with GNU/Linux.

“In the real world, not the hot house of USA, Dell has to compete with OEMs producing and retailers giving shelf-space to GNU/Linux PCs,” Pogson added.

“Governments and schools all around the world are preferring GNU/Linux these days, so Dell will have to supply them if it does not want to lose that market to competitors,” he concluded. “Software developers are one market where GNU/Linux has global reach, including USA.”

‘The SKU Games They Keep Playing’

Instead of a specialized laptop, consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack wishes that Dell “would provide an OS drop-down menu for the OS like they do on servers,” he told Linux Girl.

“The attention they are getting proves there is a demand, but I don’t see who will tolerate the SKU games they keep playing where they either put Linux on a machine with cut-down hardware to make it seem slow or provide it only on a more expensive machine than the equivalent Windows hardware,” Mack added.

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien was even less excited.

“I own one of the first Dell laptops to come with Ubuntu pre-installed, and it is now running Kubuntu 12.04,” he began. “But when I feel the need to get a new laptop, I am probably going to buy it from ZaReason because I would rather support someone who shares my values.

“This may be a sign of market interest in Linux, but it won’t affect my buying decisions,” O’Brien added.

‘A Great Gun to the Head of MSFT’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw Dell’s move as a strategic one in light of Windows 8’s upcoming arrival.

“I have a feeling you’ll be seeing a LOT of that in the coming months as it is a great gun to hold to the head of MSFT,” hairyfeet explained. “They won’t actually care about selling Linux, of course — they learned that lesson last time when they had to run their own repos because Torvalds’ constant kernel fiddling broke their drivers.

“No, instead they will tell MSFT, ‘either you give us what we want or we’ll just set up our own version of Ubuntu and start pushing it,’ and MSFT will cave,” hairyfeet predicted.

“What do they want? The same thing every other OEM wants: better prices on Windows and the right to keep selling Win 7, because they realize the consumer backlash against Win 8 will make Vista look like XP,” he concluded.

‘A Welcome First Step’

In any case, “this is a story to watch,” mused Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

“I am not sure that Dell has a clear plan for marketing the [Ubuntu] laptop,” he explained. “I don’t know that they will have the follow-through to make it happen. But it is a welcome first step.”

The question now is “what we can do to help them be successful,” Travers concluded. “It’s probably not enough to consider a Dell when buying a new laptop. We have to find ways to get others to try it.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

1 Comment

  • There is a REASON why you get cheaper hardware with Linux, and it is twofold. the first reason is frankly the fault of every Linux dev and blogger that has bragged "turn that dumpster dive into a great Linux PC!" because for years the Linux community have frankly oversold badly how little Linux needs to run well, so it gives the OEMs an excuse to dump parts they wouldn’t be able to move otherwise.

    The second if because with Windows HP and especially starter what you are getting isn’t a "Windows Tax" its a "Windows Tax Break" because companies like Symantec and Norton pay good money to push their trialware, and the OEMs themselves make good money hawking everything from printer ink and paper to cameras through their junk software like "HP Solution center" which they install on every Windows PC.

    Now not only does the third party stuff not run but frankly i bet if you looked at the numbers the amount of Linux users that actually use something like "HP Solution Center" to be pretty close to 0%. Heck most posts I’ve seen about buying Linux machines the buyers usually nuke whatever distro it comes with for their own fav flavor anyway!

    Whether you like this or not this raises the price because the OEMs can’t get paid for the bundleware and the extra aftermarket sales so naturally the price WILL be higher for you than a Windows user. this is NOT a "tax" its simple economics. With the user on windows they make X, with Linux they make X-Y, so naturally you are being charged Y to make up the difference. everyone knows the PC business is razor thin on the margins as it is so honestly it shouldn’t be surprising that this is the case.

    If you think its only the "Windows Tax" I suggest you go to someplace like System76, price a unit and then compare the same unit on Acer or Asus running windows, you’ll find the Linux vendor simply has to charge more. Its econ 101 Mr. Mack, nothing more. Its also why Pro and Ultimate machines cost a LOT more than a simple license would cost, because those users will simply blow pro for a corp image or in the case of Ultimate just not use their "noob crap" software, thus less aftermarket money.

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