Linux on Dell

Few could argue against the changes and innovations that were brought to the PC industry as a result of the entry of Dell into the industry. Personal computers were made to order and people were introduced to the idea of customizing a PC to their needs. These strategies made Dell a winner in the PC industry for a long time.

One of the interesting things about Dell’s strategy was that it run a lean and efficient supply chain which means that it had a great a mount of influence with its suppliers. It took Dell a while to adopt AMD’s processors in its product lines and AMD had to work to get its processors into Dell’s product line. The first time I heard rumors about Dell offering pre-installed Linux on its product line, I was skeptical and had to wait for it to settle down first and find its own level as it were. This push towards Linux started with the launch of the Ideastorm blog web site where customers submit recommendations on how Dell can improve its services. One of the hottest suggestions on the site was a request to have Dell pre-install Linux.

Dell seems to be listening and all indications are that plans are already at an advance stage to have Dell pre-install Linux on at least some of its desktop and laptop product lines. This is a company that has a reputation for testing its products before they are released and it would be a good bet to assume that this testing would also apply to product lines that have Linux pre-installed.

Effects on the Linux Eco-system

Dell’s support of Linux (no matter the distribution) would result in overall improvement in the Linux eco-system with regard to things like drivers and much easier user interfaces for utilities. Linux distributions like Ubuntu make a greater effort in simplifying some of the things in Linux that are intimidating to novice users of the OS. However, the entry of Dell into the nascent Linux desktop market would also mean that you get the support of a seasoned company. Dell sells more than just laptops and desktops. In their product lines are servers, printers, LCD TVs and cameras. Most of these devices would have to connect to a computer and if these computer comes from Dell with Linux pre-installed, it is in Dell’s interests to have the drivers for these devices readily accessible. Dell has made a pledge to develop open source drivers and this commitment should lead to some degree of improvements for Linux drivers on the desktop. Linux aficionados and open source advocates will be hoping that this would encourage graphics cards manufactures to release their drivers as open source.

Business Angle

While this remains just a speculation at this point: if Dell can provide comprehensive support for Linux on its product lines along the same lines as support for Microsoft’s Windows, this would make it one of the first major PC manufacturers to do but on a global scale (Note: RedFlag in China already sells its own Linux distro in that country). The availability of Linux has largely been from software vendors (or in the case of open source business models, these would be support and value added service providers). These providers would include Novell, Canonical, RedHat and others such as Oracle with a mixed strategy. Hence Dell would represent a major hardware vendor that does not have its own Linux distro but provide support to one or probably a number of distros.

While there have been a number of predictions about Linux on the desktop picking up, I can’t help liken such a move by Dell to what IBM did and still continues to do with Linux on the server. IBM’s support for Linux was significant to the acceptance of Linux on the server side by cooperation. At the moment, Linux on the desktop remains the domain of above average computer users though strictly speaking this does not need to be the case. Dell’s support would encourage more people to consider using Linux as their desktop operating system or at least have the option of having it installed.

As business strategies go, this will hopefully catch on with the other players in the PC industry so that we have a couple of manufacturers offering Linux pre-installed in their product lines. HP?

Let’s see what this does for Linux on the desktop. 🙂


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