Dell Chooses Ubuntu

I have to say I am a curious individual.  If I was a cat, I'd probably be dead, but I am not a cat and I have a blog.  So I am curious about what you think about certain things and because of this I have created a new category on this blog called Commentary where I'll share my thoughts and ask for your comments.

Note: The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of my team or of my employer.  Remember that opinions are like {insert body part here} in that everyone has one 🙂


The other day, Dell and London based Canonical announced that Dell would start selling certain PCs that you could order pre-loaded with Ubuntu 7.04.  Soon you will have the choice (US Only for now) to get your PC loaded with Feisty Fawn instead of XP SP2 or Vista.  Now this isn't the first time Dell has tried this, in the late 90's they tried it but canceled that program in 2001 due to low demand.  On top of that they do offer Red Hat on some of their servers and business workstations as well, but this is going to be sold with select consumer PC lines.

Great news for Dell (free PR), great news for Ubuntu (again PR), great news for Canonical (they are providing the support) but I have a few questions....

Is the Ubuntu version of a PC going to cost less?  I doubt it.  Microsoft charges very little to OEMs for the OS and a lot of the money the OEM makes is all the software that comes pre-loaded.  Remember the deal Google made with Dell to include the Google Toolbar on all PCs?  That was worth $1 Billion to Dell over three years.  A lot of this software just doesn't run on Linux.

How about support?  Microsoft offers 90 days of free email, chat and phone based support with every version of Windows Vista.  Professional support from Ubuntu costs $250-$900/year based on your SLA.  Both offer plenty of free community support options as well.  Is Canonical going to deliver a lower cost support option for Dell's Ubuntu customers?  Is this charge going to be swallowed by Dell, Canonical, or the consumer?  If it is the consumer, see my first point.

What about Hardware support?  I've installed Ubuntu and with some standard hardware the process is pretty straight forward.  Canonical is going to be tasked with ensuring the hardware in the Dell PCs is compatible with Ubuntu and I am sure they will do a great job.  What is an average consumer going to do when they want to install the latest and greatest USB device like an ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0 (ATI/AMD does not supply Linux drivers)?

What about 3rd party applications?  Ubuntu comes pre-loaded with a pile of applications.  Open Office, FireFox, email, chat, and various other app's used by everyday users.  Now there is a learning curve with every OS and Ubuntu is easy enough to use, but what happens when a user wants to install their accounting program?  Quicken does not support Linux, will the OSS equivalent (if there is one) support importing Quicken files?  Who will support this app?  I am not even going to touch gaming 🙂

Finally, what about the user experience?  UX is important and one of the big UX complaints with Vista is UAC.  Well Linux (and OSX) have the same thing via Sudo.  Want to enable automatic updates in Ubuntu?  Open up Terminal and ......

sudo crontab -e

0 0 * * * aptitude -y update && aptitude -y upgrade && aptitude -y dist-upgrade && aptitude -y autoclean

Sound like something your average user could figure out?

Now I think this has the potential for three things really.  It takes off, Ubuntu replaces Windows as the OS of choice and I am out of a job, or enough hardcore Linux users buy from Dell to keep the program afloat, or it fails and Dell kills the program.  I really don't know what is going to happen, but I think my job is safe as this is unlikely to be profitable for Dell.  No matter what happens, I think this is good for everyone as more options and more competition lead to better pricing and more innovation.

So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts?  Dell's decision?  Think about it and post your comments, I am curious to hear what you have to say.

Comments (15)

  1. Glenn MacDonald says:

    I would like to take up the otherside of this comment. I like to see options and that is exactly what is being offered nothing more nothing less. I find it disturbing that a company with such good products is afraid of giving the public an option. Competion can do nothing but help to promote and strengthen good products. There have not been many compeditors but they all sever a purpose, would we still be using command line if someone else had not made it popular? We choose to use these products for compatibility, stability, and the wide range of options and to see how others would do something only helps to expand the offerings of developers. I feel the comments are from a protectionist affaid to allow free competion IF the product produced is supperior then why not use it. I don’t like certain cars but I don’t think that they should not be produced or sold because they are not built by the company I presently support. Please don’t take offence these are my thoughts expressed to further the debate and stengthen the dialouge of choice.

  2. Rodney Buike says:

    Hi Glenn,

    No offence taken!  I am trying to encourage some thought and participation in this blog.  I just wanted to remind everyone that these are my thoughts and not necessarily those of Microsoft.  I don’t think you should feel disturbed as Microsoft has put a lot of effort into interoperability.  Linux and Apple are here to stay and if we can’t work with them we are the ones who lose.

    I also agree with your comments as I stated….

    “No matter what happens, I think this is good for everyone as more options and more competition lead to better pricing and more innovation.”

    My questions are around how consumers are going to take to this and that is why I asked those questions.   Dell wants to make money, and if PCs don’t sell (no matter what OS comes pre-loaded) they don’t make any.  Ubuntu may be “ready for the desktop” but are consumers ready for Ubuntu?

    Rodney Buike

    IT Pro Advisor

  3. Ken says:

    I think most of your article is spot on but I wanted to touch on your updates comment.  The last few releases of Ubuntu that I’ve tried out all came with automatic updates enabled by default with an easy GUI to use it with.

  4. kenton says:

    I agree 100% with the comment about choice. The other reason I think this is really good is because before, if I was to buy a Dell and load Ubuntu on it and I had any problems, I’d be forced to load Windows on it before I could get support from Dell. Now at least I can have a Linux box that has warranty support.

    I really don’t see this combination of Dell/Ubuntu taking over from Dell/Windows Vista Home Ed. I never enable autoupdates on my Windows boxes and I wouldn’t do it on a Linux one. It pops up and tells me when updates are available and that exactly how I have Windows set (except Ubuntu did this for me automatically instead of me having to tell Windows to do it).

    I think it’s great, but I think I’ll pick your option number 2 for the success of this venture.

  5. JollyRoger says:

    Well as you said, it will go one of three ways

    We now go down the Ubuntu path (Follow the yellow rust road) because of it’s superiority (cough)

    Dell tries, flies and drops the program.

    Or it becomes a "somewhat acceptable" alternative in the marketplace which causes Microsoft, Apple to rethink and reshake things a bit more.

    Competition never hurt (well, er uh, Commodore, IBM, cough cough!)

    But look what happened with Mobile 5, excellent alternative.  RIM is now rethinking about what people want on their phones (GASP!  People might actually want MP3’s and Cameras on a phone?!)

    Think I’ll download it myself.   But I’m content for the fact that right now I can run down to the local shop and pick up working software for my PC or the odd Mac I have.

    Ubuntu on a Dell.   Shall I (dare I?) mention another little flop "Lindows" at "Walmart"…

    Cheers sir.

    Sean the ‘puter guy

  6. ye110wbeard says:

    Interesting.  I tried Ubuntu in a "VirtualBox".

    Shall we say it seemed "Quite Unhappy" at that prospect.  Oh it BOOTED fine.

    Once however the poor beasty tried to launch anything Graphic (like oh say the Setup?) Boom!

    Funny.  It was a "Beautiful Linux environment".  A whopping 128 meg of ram and a 16 gig Hard drive… 🙂

    Doesn’t Linux usually "run wild" in this environment?

    I know… not a fare statement, but chalk that up to the usual Mac/PC/Linux joke pile.   PC’s always need 2 terabytes of RAM, Macs don’t get viruses or crash, Linux runs on minimal hardware.

    You know the deal … Cheers

  7. David V. says:

    I’ve been following this story for a little while and I’m really not sure about this decision. While I agree that Linux is ready for the desktop (and has been for a little while now) I agree with Rod in that regular users won’t be ready for the adjustment. Power users who want to install various Linux distributions (Ubuntu, SUSE, Fedora, etc) won’t be likely to buy a Dell to do it on in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Linux, especially Apple and other *NIX operating systems but I still believe users are too accustomed to the Windows desktop. Users can tolerate change but unless they’re absolutely frustrated with the platform they have, they’re not going to be willing to learn a whole new operating system and its quirks unless they absolutely have to. Your job is safe for now Rod. 🙂

  8. Brian says:

    Are consumers ready for Vista?  Is driver support, or software compatibility any better?  Ooops, wrong point… or may this is the point, consumers now have an opportunity to get another OS option.  Up til now, a consumer had NO CHOICE but to order a machine from Dell with Windows.  There was no option for “no OS” even.  Choice is good.  And btw, Ubuntu does automatically prompt you to apply updates, it just doesn’t try to make you blindly trust them and install them automatically.

  9. ye110wbeard says:

    Actually this is not a poke at Ubuntu.  I’m thinking out loud right now about support issues with Dell.

    One of the biggest problems I have encountered with Dell is support (no matter the O/S).   I wonder how they are going to manage support properly dealing with two O/S’s with the front line desks in India?  We’ve encountered similiar problems with Sympatico and HP support where the company is going "down the tubes" in customer satisfaction because the lines of communication between the front line offloaded support and higher tiers just doesn’t happen easily.

    Can you imagine how front level will deal with "Ubuntu" added to the mix?    They seem to have enough problems understanding the difference between a UPS and a laptop battery.   (I’m not being funny, this is what I do for a living and I encounter this on a regular basis with the new front level support).

    Hopefully Dell has planned for this problem.    I also tried the live CD.  It’s interesting and Evolution did actually connect to our Exchange 2003 Server without issue (That I can see… 😉 )

    Unfortunateley in my case, I can’t put the Roger’s Parental control software, otherwise I’d load it on the workstations to stop them trying to Limewire me to death.

    Cheers all ….

  10. Dhaval says:

    it looks like “rodney.buike” has never used ubuntu befor. specially ubuntu 7.04.

    he should at least try live cd, before writing any thing about ubuntu.

    i have been using it since 8 months, upgraded once, without any problem,and the speed hasn’t changed yet (unlike xp)

    also i am software junky, so i almost install and remove more then 4 softwares every week.

  11. Rodney Buike says:

    Funny you should say that as the post was written and posted from a Dell M90 (same kind Michael Dell uses) running 7.04 🙂  I should clarify one thing about the updating.  The command line cron job I posted downloads and applies all updates (kernel, security, and regular old upgrades/updates) and removes the old files.  Now you can go to System | Administration | Software Sources and enable automatic updating but my research found that only takes care of software and security patches.  Even so that doesn’t address the UAC like feature called Sudo.

    Even without this particular point I think my questions are still valid and only time will tell if there are a) enough Linux users buying the select PCs available from Dell with Ubuntu and b) what the reaction of regular consumers is to the avaiability of these PCs.  Only time will tell…..

  12. Serge says:

    Ubuntu on Dell computer?

    Maybe some people looking for a deal will get one, but when they will try to install a good new game… d’ho!

    You know what drives technology? Games of course!

    What push companies to work hard to make new graphics cards, new speedy ram ? Games of course.

    I aggree that Ubuntu is a good looking OS (I tried it) and it runs well, but will games companies create games that run on Linux? This could be the beginning of real life for Linux!

    It could be clever form Dell to warn customer about games supported on Linux 😉

  13. David F. Skoll says:

    I’m glad Dell chose Ubuntu.  I will probably never by a Dell, and even if I do, I will probably rip out whatever OS is preinstalled and install Linux the way I like it.

    The reason I’m happy that Dell is preinstalling Ubuntu is that it means they’ll have Linux-compatible hardware.  (If Ubuntu works, so will any reasonably-modern Linux distro.)  That means way fewer support headaches for us when our customers by Dell hardware (against our advice!) and try to install our sofware on it.

    Go Linux-compatible hardware!

    Re: some other posts: “Is the average consumer ready for Linux?”  My parents, kids (aged 5, 9, 13) and sisters all use Linux, and they are not computer-trained.  Could they install Linux?  Probably not (except for one sister), but then they probably couldn’t install Windows either.  Can they run Linux?  Sure!

    “Quicken does not support Linux, will the OSS equivalent (if there is one) support importing Quicken files?”  Yes, GnuCash imports Quicken files.  It’s has an active developer community.

    “Finally, what about the user experience?”  According to my 13-year old, KDE is great, GNOME is OK, and Windows (at school… never at our house… horrors!) sucks.  Any more questions for me/her? 🙂

  14. ye110wbeard says:

    Pretty much sums up my comments.  

    It will fly (Great O/S smokes everybody else)

    It will bomb (Good idea, colors were funny to me)

    Or Somewhere in the middle (Causes market to rethink things – NEVER a bad idea, might cause people to ask the “why Windows Sucks”.  Maybe think if Microsoft should continue supporting age old legacy applications like Dos, Mac certainly doesn’t with OS/X – which makes stability easier to pull off – no issues if “Doom” can run under the latest Mac OS/X.   Linux is the same.  Not a poke, just a comment)

    I am curious if there is a replacement to the Legal accounting software PClaw in the Linux community that will do a full import of the accounting database from that system?

    That is one of those “Deal breaker” apps out there.   Lawyers (Those guys writing everybodies license agreements) are running mostly PClaw by LexisNexis.   They have no plans on a Mac/Linux version (LexisNexis).  

    But the bulk of law firms out there are running that application for their accounting.  Any thoughts?

  15. Rodney Buike says:

    Just an FYI as there was a lot of interest in this thread.  Seems the first review is out….

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