Ubuntu Linux Coming Soon to Dell PCs

Computer giant Dell plans to begin offering the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system on its computers, the company announced Tuesday.

In a partnership with Dell, Ubuntu’s distributor Canonical will provide technical support and service to Dell customers for an additional fee. Both Dell and Canonical hint that this could be just the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Although speculation has been rampant for weeks that Dell would soon roll out computers preloaded with Linux, the company has been tight-lipped about any specific plans. Members of the Linux community watched anxiously as surveys at Dell Idea Storm, the company’s interactive consumer relations Web site, showed there was indeed a demand for computers with factory-installed Linux.

Rumors jumped to a fever pitch recently, when visitors to the Dell Web site noticed that CEO Michael Dell himself runs Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on his laptop. Still, the only purchase option on the site remained Dell’s n-Series model that shipped with no operating system at all and allowed buyers to install their own.

Coming Soon

While Dell remains closed-mouthed about what specific types and models of computers will be available for purchase, it will begin shipping the first units “in the coming weeks. … We’ll have a dedicated site that will serve as a portal for purchasing the products with links to product resources [such as] community forums, etc.” Jeremy Bolen, a spokesperson for Dell Product Communications, told LinuxInsider.

Dell’s decision to partner with Canonical was largely based on consumer responses at Dell Idea Storm, Bolen stated.

“Unequivocally, Ubuntu was the distribution of choice by a wide margin in our Linux survey conducted in March. … Our target market for the initial offering is Linux enthusiasts who want the option of an open source operating system factory installed,” Bolen added.

Bolen would not say if Dell plans to offer any other Linux-based distributions in addition to Ubuntu or whether its agreement with Canonical would preclude it from doing so. However, Dell “will continue to take feedback from our customers and implement meaningful offerings that meet their needs,” he said. “This is the start of an ongoing positive relationship with the best interests of our customers in mind.”

Users Want Choices

Canonical’s partnership with Dell has been in the works for months, Canonical COO Jane Silber stated, adding that it’s simply a part of the natural evolutionary process as Linux continues to gain widespread approval.

Linux-based operating systems are no longer considered appropriate only for highly technical users and are now gaining mainstream approval, Silber told LinuxInsider. Now, users want choices.

“There had to be a general broadening of appeal first and market forces are aligning in such a way that this [partnership] is now practical,” she said. “We’re very positive about this as another continued step in the widespread adoption of open source options. This gives consumers a real opportunity to have choices, something they haven’t had in the past.”

Additionally, Canonical has “an active program of working with others around the world, and large companies like Intel and Sun already participate in the development process,” Silber stated. “This is the first effort on such a large scale, but we continue to have conversations with a number of system builders.”

It is unclear if Canonical will help fund the marketing or any other aspect of the computers, or if Dell has helped fund any part of the Ubuntu projects, as both companies refused to comment on the specifics of their business relationship.

A Win-Win

News of the partnership is likely to be met with a great deal of enthusiasm from the Linux community, Dana Gardner, principal analyst for Interarbor Solutions, told LinuxInsider.

“Obviously, any preinstallation of Linux in a major PC distribution channel like Dell is a fairly big deal,” he stated. “It helps those who want to get a clean Linux [computer] up and running quickly, so it does accelerate the ease with which a non-tech user could be running the services and applications they are interested in.”

If this partnership goes well, other PC manufacturers will likely follow suit, Gardner noted, adding that it could also drastically improve the availability of Linux-supported drivers and address other compatibility issues.

“This is an instance where Dell is testing the waters, and if it turns out to be smooth sailing, I think we’ll see other ramp-ups in this direction and perhaps the creation of more of an ecosystem around Linux,” he said. “If Dell starts gaining market share in this small but influential space, then others will have to take notice. Furthermore, Ubuntu has a lot of community support so this really is a win-win situation.”

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