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Dell drowning in Linux requests

by benanzo / February 22, 2007 4:01 PM PST

As you've probably seen on digg by now, Dell recently started a site ( that asks for their customers' ideas on what Dell should do in the future. These ideas have ranged from eliminating that crapola pre-installed software that they ship on all their machines to bringing phone tech support back to Texas. But the single most requested (by a margin of 2 to 1) item has been to offer Linux pre-installed as an option to Windows. In fact, 3 of the top 5 requests have been to offer free libre open source software pre-installed. Those being Linux,, and Firefox. My little brain still wonders WHY HAVEN'T THEY DONE THIS BEFORE???

I can *sorta* understand the Linux option because half of Dell's customers don't know what it is and it would require Dell do some serious support for those people. I can even *sorta* understand the FF option because 80% (or so I think) of the world's interneters don't know what it is and would wonder if it's just a different internet, and if so, how on earth do they read their email anymore. Not to mention that installing another browser beside IE on the desktop would probably violate one of the old secret license agreements that MS got SUED over when they threatened Compaq for installing Netscape on their Windows machines. Regardless, you know those license terms are still 'round and livin' large.

Oh, and What's in it for Dell? nothing, just some valueadd. No one's going to pay Dell to install it. Not like AOL or mcaffee pays for their crap. Dell's in so deep with these swindlers that there's just no room to move. Honestly, it's not going to be Dell or HP or Sony or any of the other big PC venders that make these moves. We've seen it first coming from smaller venders like System76 (

It won't be until Dell sees a tangible marketshare loss to someone other than HP that they'll start kickin' their bad habits and try something new. The biggest catalyst for that kind of change would be if someone like Apple made a splash or IBM bedding down with Novell and/or RH and/or Ubuntu for a hot desktop three-way. Then maybe Dell and HP and all the others will let Ballmer know that now he's just funny, but not in a funny way.

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It's a good thing they are Listening
by Renegade Knight / February 22, 2007 11:39 PM PST

I've had thoughts along the same lines. Offer up a Linux computer with a suite of applications installed so you can get to work. Same thing everone did when Microsoft was a scrappy kid on the block and everbody offered MS apps for free.

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why would they?
by vector313 / February 23, 2007 1:26 AM PST

When you can do it yourself ...
Most linux folks do it themselves anyway, modifying kernels along the way.
Plus it makes no financial sense whatsoever since they can't make any profit on the software.

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by Renegade Knight / February 23, 2007 3:19 AM PST
In reply to: why would they?

If people want Linux and offering it sells computers that's why.

Business is stupid in general but they all understand some of the basics. "Give the cusomter what they want or go out of business".

If they don't want Linux...then you are right. It won't happen.

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Not quite so simple...
by gogomama / February 23, 2007 1:30 AM PST

DISCLAIMER: I haven't really done my homework on this post, this is just what I seem to recall from reading somewhere once upon a time.

It was my understanding that part of the reason Dell has the crappy software on there is they have deals with the makers of that software to pay Dell to have them on there. This is what allows Dell to sell their computers cheaper than normal (and I should point out that most computer retailers have similar deals in place, it's not just Dell). This allows you to get your computer through them on the cheap in exchange for having to put up with/uninstall the software when you get the PC.

Also I'm sure every copy of X software sold bundled with a Dell machine (ie Office) Dell gets a cut of. This is why they have no incentive to sell Linux boxes. There's not much in the way of Linux pay software for them to get a cut of.

Also, while I use and love linux I'm a programmer, and I struggle with linux sometimes. Hell, it took me months to get my laptop wireless card working. Linux is great for hobbyists but I still don't think it's ready for prime time. That said I think it would be nice if it were offered as an option, but they should put some hefty warnings on the Dell site before the final order is placed.

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If there were an incentive, that would be it..
by benanzo / February 23, 2007 4:07 AM PST
In reply to: Not quite so simple...

Just the fact that it took months to get your wireless working on whichever non-Dell supported distro you were using is the main incentive for Dell to offer a linux on their machines. There are several other top submissions on that site that aim to address that very issue. They want Dell to try harder to ship hardware which have decent Linux drivers. Linux is still daunting to even the above-average PC user. Mainly the Windows power-user crowd. They wont use Linux if they have to sift through piles of mailing list archives and forums for some answers. This is where Dell could offer a competitive business aimed at Linux users and wannabes. If they can assert that their machines are supported by Debian stable (Ubuntu LTS), Fedora, openSUSE etc. (which are almost identical in terms of hardware support) then they can begin to offer preconfigured systems ready for those users. There is a market for it.

But again, I would be very surprised if this kind of move came from one of the big OEMs. Their margins are just too tight. It really is going to take some serious inroads by someone like Apple to shake up the system. There are several smaller venders that are building and shipping Ubuntu machines preconfigured with composite desktop, NTFS, MythTV media center, etc. Those are the venders that will finally push the large systems makers into this new market. Or IBM will.

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(NT) My laptop is a Toshiba, not a dell :)
by gogomama / February 23, 2007 8:00 AM PST
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that's the point
by benanzo / February 23, 2007 8:09 AM PST

if Toshiba wont support Linux are their laptops then Dell could make their business on that exact scenario. By Dell certifying their hardware as Linux 2.6.20 compatible then they have instant customers with half the overhead.

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sorry, hasty post
by gogomama / February 23, 2007 8:23 AM PST

I see your point and you're right, I think there is a market for linux-compliant computer packages. When I was going through the pains with my wireless card on my laptop I was seriously considering just picking a new one up, but I wanted to be sure I wouldn't just have the same problem. It would be nice if hardware manufacturers did more to advertise if their products worked well with linux. The problem of course is there are so many distros of linux you can't really just say "works with linux", you'd have to list which distros it worked with (unless it worked with them all).

However a company that puts together machines with a specific distro and linux compatibility in mind... that would be awesome.

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as long as the OEM
by benanzo / February 23, 2007 3:51 PM PST
In reply to: sorry, hasty post

certified their hardware on a stock kernel from then they'd be fine. It would not be that hard for Dell to load up a 2.6.20 or 22 kernel on their machine and go through the checklist of which devices work out of the box and which need separate kernel modules to function. Every major distro gets their kernel from downstream. Dell only has to certify the functionality of a vanilla kernel on their hardware to make it compatible with almost everyone's favorite distro.

This is not as hard as it sounds. Dell uses a very limited set of hardware for all their different machines. *Most* of this hardware has 100% Linux support. These are things like motherboards, controllers, drives, etc. Wireless adapters, graphics adapters and HD-DVD/Blu-Ray drives are where the support is lacking. This is not an issue that can't be resolved by simply loading a bunch of binary modules onto an install disc and shipping that to the customer with the new machine. Pop the disc in, the wizard does the rest. Everyone knows where this is going...

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by Owyn / February 23, 2007 8:56 PM PST
In reply to: as long as the OEM

The best value to the Linux community is knowing that the components are Linux compliant. I help people to get inexpensive used systems. Part of my testing of the systems before purchase is to boot a Linux Live CD and see how / if it works. This is necessary because the systems will be running fresh Linux + Open Office etc installs after I have finished setup. This avoids support problems later and guarantees that any residual garbage has been flushed.

Dell systems have a particularly bad record of compliance.

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Be realistic... 50% want linux... NO WAY!!!
by robstak / February 23, 2007 12:55 PM PST

maybe a lot of the posters do, but I'd bet that >80% of Dell purchasers would prefer Microsoft. Especially, the BOL forums, we are a skewed audience.


Linux is free... M$ adds value to a PC, so unless they give you 200$ off, it doesn't make sense to opt for linux.

Don't get me wrong, I'd like Dell to offer Linux PC's but I definately want some 100's of bucks off, at least, to make it worth my while. As a business model, tho, does it work? Think American Economics...

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You're right that they'd prefer Windows
by benanzo / February 23, 2007 3:32 PM PST

but it's not because they know enough (about either of them) to make an educated decision. What we're seeing now are simply the repercussions of an unchecked monopoly allowed to exist (by any means necessary, thinking of BeOS here) for the last 15-20 years. The average computer user doesn't understand the difference between the hardware and the software. There is little that MS has to do now to maintain their dominance.

It is, however, in the OEMs' best interest to court another OS as an option to Windows. That would place the ball more squarely between MS and the OEMs rather than entirely in MS' playground. I think this is more the angle that Dell would play with regards to offering a Linux alternative. Although MS has historically frowned upon this behavior, they'd just open up for another lawsuit if they acted distastefully toward Dell over any potential Linux offerings.

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Right, but it only works if there is public demand...
by robstak / February 24, 2007 2:46 AM PST

Dell can court anyone they want, but in the end, if ppl dont buy the machines it won't make a difference. I think itd be way more interesting if they sold OSX lol. then we'd see some competition Silly

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