‘All our desktops can run Linux if you want to, we see this as more of a demand issue than a supply issue,’ Dell’s chairman and chief executive, Michael Dell, told Computer Business Review in May 2005. Two years on, and with Dell’s IdeaStorm web site having proven the demand for desktop Linux, the company announced it has selected the Ubuntu distribution for its new Linux desktop machines.
Dell announced at the end of March that it would sell some PCs pre-installed with Linux, after its IdeaStorm feedback web site was deluged in its first few weeks with requests for Linux PCs. After that it became a matter of which Linux distribution the company would go for.
When asked which distribution of Linux Dell should prioritize on, Ubuntu was the most requested option, the company noted in a short statement on Tuesday. Today, we are excited to tell you that Dell will begin offering Canonical’s latest version, Ubuntu 7.04, as an option on select Dell consumer models in the US in the coming weeks.
We are announcing very shortly a joint effort to put Linux more squarely in the consumer space in the US, said Ubuntu founder, Mark Shuttleworth, in a video presentation. It is aimed at, initially a subset of the desktop and laptop devices that Dell sells in response to an extraordinary volume of requests on the Dell IdeaStorm site.
IdeaStorm was launched in February as a means for the Round Rock, Texas-based hardware vendor to keep tabs on customer feedback, and was immediately besieged by requests for Linux and open source software.
As of May 1 the pre-installation of Linux remains the most promoted suggestion, with over 130,000 promotions, followed by pre-installed OpenOffice.org with 95,000 promotions, and pre-installed Firefox as the default browser with 70,000 promotions..
Given the vocal enthusiasm of Linux and open source software supporters, it would be easy to dismiss the results as rabble-rousing, but Shuttleworth insisted that the companies have done their sums and are convinced the demand is genuine.
This is historically a vocal community… so I’m not surprised they would express very strongly a desire to be recognized through Dell IdeaStorm. We have to peer more deeply into the data and see whether underneath that vocal component is also a commercial component, folks who would genuinely vote with their wallets, he said. Based on the numbers it appears that there is that underlying commercial level of demand, and what we’re about to do is step up to service that demand.
Dell also said it will continue to support Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux on its Precision workstation line, while Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is certified on its Linux systems. Nevertheless, the choice of Ubuntu is a significant endorsement for the community-driven Linux distribution.
Sponsored by Canonical, also owned by Shuttleworth, Ubuntu has always focused on ease of use and is an offshoot of the Debian Linux distribution. Version 7.04 was released in mid-April (the version number corresponds to the year and month of release) and introduced support for the new quad-core processors from Intel and AMD, as well as their on-chip virtualization support.
Ahead of the official announcement, it is not entirely clear how Dell will provide support for Linux running on its PCs, although Canonical offers 9×5 desktop support for $250 and $24×7 support for $900 per year. Dell also recently launched a Linux community board for users to share Linux problems and solutions.
Despite those support services, Canonical lacks the commercial presence of Red Hat or Novell, which makes the choice of Ubuntu a brave one. It is hardly a surprising choice, however. Last month the company revealed that Michael Dell was using Ubuntu 7.04 on his own personal Precision M90 laptop, alongside the OpenOffice.org productivity suite and Firefox browser. If it’s good enough for the CEO, it’s good enough for the customers.
Expanding on the implications of the announcements for Linux, Shuttleworth said he doubted it would have an immediate impact on desktop Linux adoption, but said it does point to longer term growth. I don’t think there’s going to be a big-bang event when the world suddenly shifts from one platform to another, but I think that Linux is coming into its own as a viable, reliable platform, he said. An initiative like this from Dell is phenomenally important in raising the attention in the industry of the importance of Linux as a platform. I think one of the consequences of this is going to be lots of computer consultants out there that have Linux expertise but have never talked about it are going to say ‘we have Linux too’.