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back to article Dell's dance with Ubuntu: True love or farce?

Where Dell 1.0 had Red Hat, Dell 2.0 sports Ubuntu. Can you really tell the difference? Dell 1.0 had Michael Dell brag in 2000 about being "the first major manufacturer to offer Linux across its full product line." Dell made these comments at the LinuxWorld conference, where he also promoted Dell investments in open source …

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Anonymous Coward

The next Ubuntu for Dell will be...

The 'Feisty Fawn' version of Ubuntu will not keep Microsoft awake at night... but they might start having nightmares when the next version - 'Gutted Gates' is released!

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More Linux irrelevancy

Can the Linux advocates please stop the juvenille attacks like "Gutted Gates" because it makes you and the OS look like a joke? No one is going to take seriously an OS being peddled with all the emotional maturity of a 7 year old. Try making a proper argument for your OS instead.

As far as I see there is no market for a big box shifter like Dell sticking Linux on its PCs. Given how easy it is to install Linux in the first place I really don't see the point. Ubuntu installs in about six clicks of the mouse and providing it finds all your hardware (which unless it's really exotic it will) almost anyone can do. Linux is still far too much of an unknown quanity for Harry Homeowner to order sight-unseen. People need Windows preinstalling because for amateurs it can be difficult, Ubuntu on the other hand is a no-brainer. If I really need Dell to click the mouse to install Ubuntu then really I shouldn't be running Linux at all.

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Anonymous Coward

Dell don't make it easy

I was intrigued as to how cheap I could buy a Dell PC with Ubuntu's GNU/Linux pre-installed.

It doesn't seem that Dell really want to ship systems without Windows. I randomly selected 3 desktop machines spanning the price range, tried to customise without that software virus vector called windows but none of the systems I looked at offered an option for Ubuntu.

I was wanting to find out what the price difference was between Windows and Linux pre-installed. I have a vague memory from years ago that Dell1.0 with Redhat was about the same price as MS.

I even tried searching Dell's site for 'Ubuntu' - zero hits in products

Sorry, but I don't have time to look any further, I will go and visit my favourite hardware vendor online http://www.alternate.de/ (make sure you get .de and not .com!)

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Cynical Reporting

This just reads of cynical reporting. It's far to easy to knock.

On Linux not working in 2000 so why should it work now.

Linux in 2000 was touch to install had very poor hardware support, poor applications and had a limit GUI.

Today, the main desktop distros have a GUI install, hardware support is much better (except for bleeding edge hardware), OpenOffice 2.x, Firefox and Thunderbird will more than meet the needs of most people and finally the GUI options are more intuitive and easy to use.

I moved 100% to Linux a month ago and chose Ubuntu 7.04 specificall because it is easy to use.

I am running the NVIDIA drivers with Wireless Networking and the Evolution email client. I am most definitely not a Linux expert, but it all just worked.

For people who just need Office, web and email Linux is more that enough. So, I think Dell doing Linux is a great thing I wish them both every success with it.

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Windows Tax

Kevin Hall,

I think the primary reason people want to buy computers with Linux pre-installed is to avoid paying the "Windows Tax". Sure, you could get a computer with Windows, wipe it and install Linux, but you've already paid for a Windows license.

Technically, a computer with Linux pre-installed should be cheaper than one with Windows, but that decision rests with Dell. Even if they charge the same price though, many people will still be happier that they're no longer artificially inflating Windows sales figures.

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The average user wouldn't notice

Most users wouldn't actually notice they had linux installed - especially a linux like Ubuntu.

They are more likely to think that its just been rearranged a little and that it behaves a little differently but since they were fairly clueless with windows and just kept clicking until something worked, the same tactics will work in Ubuntu - they might even find it easier, who knows.

Ask them what they have at home on their computer as the OS and the answers will probably vary.

Some are likely to say its Firefox or OpenOffice

Others are quite likely to respond with something along the lines of "Oh its that new Windows vista Linux" or "Windows Ubuntu" without really knowing what they are talking about.

True a lot of people will notice - but (ordering business machines for the office excepted) they are unlikely to be shopping at dell.... bar possible ordering machines for users in the former category.

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Anonymous Coward

Linux Irrelevancy?

Some people take things far too seriously, the "Gutted Gates" jibe being one such point. Grow a sense of humour, Mr Hall.

Anyway, as to your point - the fact that because Ubuntu is so easy to install, you can't see the point. The point is, if I want Ubuntu on a machine, then why the heck should I have to pay for Windows, and why the heck should I have to uninstall it?

You know, I like pepperoni on a pizza. So I buy them that way. Fortunately my local pizza shop doesn't say to me "We only do chicken pizzas, because it's easy to remove the chicken and replace it with pepperoni yourself. But you still have to pay for the chicken"

That's but one reason why there's a point. There's plenty more, but frankly, I couldn't be bothered trotting them out.

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RE: More Linux Irrelevancy

How about the market of people who want a PC from dell, but don't want to pay for a copy of windows they're never going to use? This is definitely a step in the right direction for cheaper, more stable PCs.

> Linux is too much of an unknown quantity for Harry Homeowner...

Aside from the fact that Harry Homeowner could be a good name for the next but one version of Ubuntu, have you ever met the average home PC user?

Harry as you've dubbed him doesn't care, and in fact doesn't even know what an operating system is, nor which one is on his PC. If pressed he would say that 'windows' or 'microsoft' ring a bell, but so long as his PC works, and allows him to do what he wants easily and reliably, he doesn't care.

People don't "need windows installing", they need an operating system installing. If Harry has a major problem, he'll ring Dell anyway - so long as they can support it, it doesn't make any difference whether the problem is in windows or linux.

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Silver badge

So where is it?

I had a quick look on the Dell UK website but I couldn't find a way to buy a laptop with Linux installed, only Vista. I wouldn't willingly buy a machine with Vista on, because it's no use to me.

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Easy, yes, but why should they?

"As far as I see there is no market for a big box shifter like Dell sticking Linux on its PCs. Given how easy it is to install Linux in the first place I really don't see the point. Ubuntu installs in about six clicks of the mouse and providing it finds all your hardware (which unless it's really exotic it will) almost anyone can do. Linux is still far too much of an unknown quanity for Harry Homeowner to order sight-unseen. People need Windows preinstalling because for amateurs it can be difficult, Ubuntu on the other hand is a no-brainer. If I really need Dell to click the mouse to install Ubuntu then really I shouldn't be running Linux at all."

Yes, it's easy to run Ubuntu (even though I have spent quite a lot of hours modifying my xorg.conf...), but the amateurs are hardly likely to shift to it, especially after paying quite a lot of money for windows.

If they instead can buy a computer with it from sctratch, which logically *should* be cheaper than the windows model, don't you find it more likely they will?

But also as a person who runs Ubuntu of my own free will, I would appreciate to buy a machine with it pre-installed. Since I run an ATI-graphics card on my current computer, getting OpenGL to work is a bloody nightmare, and I don't really fancy buying a laptop with the same problem.

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Still not mass-market

I think you're over-stating the case when you make the point that Linux is easy to install and set up. In the forum I hang out, we ran an experiment. Six computer literate and technical users who had never run Linux before installed the Feisty Fawn release on clean systems. Some installed the 64-bit version and some the 32-bit version (by some accounts the 32-bit version is more reliable.

All but one had problems either installing the OS, configuring it, or getting standard Linux apps to run on it. Issue ranged from errant files stuck on the desktop that couldn't be deleted, unable to configure broadband (specifically wireless) and VPN connections, specific applications not working correctly (not Linux fault, more than liekly, but a new user won't care whose fault it is), basic hardware not working correctly (e.g. non-exotic CD drives), not being able to set the correct resolution and having to manually edit the conf file (which most users won't be able to do), problems with Adobe Flash, issues with partitioning hard drives.

To quote one of the participants: "I simply don't have the time to spend three hours attempting to do (and failing) what windoze does in two minutes and a couple of mouse clicks...". Remember these are literate technically-minded users. "Too much hassle all of this", to quote another.

Meanwhile, experienced Linux users were chipping in suggestions: "Use Adept", "Use Automatix2" etc. All very well, but that's just over-loading a new user with strange stuff.

My own experience with it (as somebody who is somewhat familiar with it but not intimately familiar) is that it's fine until something out-of-the-ordinary occurs, then getting to grips with the event suddenly becomes a matter of dealing with some very arcane aspects of the underlying system.

Experienced Linux users who were also playing with the new toy all reported a good experience and loved it. This suggests that while the current crop of 'user friendly' distros really are user-friendly IF you know what you're doing, Linux still has a long way to go before a technically literate user unfamiliar with it is going to feel comfortable with it, much less a mass-market user. And while this is the case, the market for Linux is never going to start growing even linearly, much less exponentially.

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Anonymous Coward

It's not that easy

"As far as I see there is no market for a big box shifter like Dell sticking Linux on its PCs. Given how easy it is to install Linux in the first place I really don't see the point."

It's easy if you're computer literate, but a great deal of Dell's customers aren't computer literate.

They wouldn't even think of changing the OS in the same way that most of us wouldn't even think of changing our car's engine. Most PC users just assume the OS has to be there, don't know that they can replace it quickly and easily, and don't even really know why they would want to replace it.

Windows dominates ordinary consumers' desktops pretty much by default, it's what comes pre-installed so it's what most people use.

If Linux was the OS that came pre-installed on most PCs, very few people would replace it with Windows because they wouldn't know how, wouldn't know why and wouldn't even know it was possible.

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Rubbish

If Harry Homeowner is confronted on a website with a windows flag and 'Microsoft Windows Vista' compared to a circle with three dots and 'Ubunto Linux 7.04' which one will they choose do you think?

Harry Homeowner isn't technical, but i'm sure they've all heard of Microsoft Windows Vista over Ubunto Linux 7.04.

Linux won't be making any headway on the desktops for years to come, it's simply to immature right now. Great for application/purpose specific servers, poor for standard desktops.

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Rob

Is it actually POSSIBLE to install any OS on a DELL machine these days?

A little bit of background:

I've just returned the Dimension E520 I ordered as a QA test machine, because although it came pre-installed with Windows XP Pro SP2 (it's an option), I could not actually run the installer from my MSDN distro.

When I called the business customer tech support, they said that their PCs "do not support the installation of any OS other than from the supplied install media". They of course refer to is the pre-installed disk image that you can use to blat over your HDD in times of trouble.

This is apparently necessary because their mainboard hardware is so flaky that it causes the WinXP installer to blue-screen-dump during initialization. I was told flatly that a multi-boot configuration on this machine (which is essential for my purposes) was not possible.

So here's my question:

If that's the case, then what chance would any Linux distro have in installing on this machine? Very little I suspect.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Ubuntu install media is also a disk image in order to side-step this issue and prevent customers returning their PCs when they can't install Linux themselves.

I recommend to anybody to use whatever OS they feel comfortable with, but don't buy one of these mass-produced corner-cut shams. You'll hit a brick wall the minute you diverge from the bare basic use-case.

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Harry Homeowner doesn't care?

Thought I'd provide my 2 cents - there's the general theme that most "Harry Homeowner"s don't really care what makes their shiny new computer run, as long as it does.

I use both XP and Ubuntu and yes, I'm happy that for my needs the two are pretty much interchangable (web, email, casual development), and I'm sure that for a lot of people the two would also be interchangable, eg OpenOffice is a good replacement for Office, Firefox for IE, Thunderbird for Outlook etc, however I'm not 100% sure that Harry is 100% ready for Linux just yet. (Or Linux is 100% ready for him!)

I happily sit somewhere in the space between newbie and expert so I generally can find my way round the gubbins of the things, but while the installation was indeed a sinch, I can't for the life of me get Ubuntu to use WPA-PSK on the wireless card. I've trawled through numerous tutorials and still no luck. It takes all of 10 seconds to set this up in XP.

One thing windows does quite well, and Harry expects, is (generally) that things are easy enough to get going - I've given up in frustration over the wireless and use a big chunk of cable instead. Getting this going should be simple. What about other things that Harry likes - webcams, ipod, things that plug into the USB, skype, printers etc etc. Will they all work? First time?

For Ubuntu, or indeed any Linux to really be useable to the masses things need "to work" - no trawling through forums thanks - also the hardware manufactures need to be on the ball and supply drivers for *all* O/Ses.

Having said that things are getting better - bar the wireless everything works well - incl. mono, which like most Linux flavored things is a lot cheaper than its counterpart :-)

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You CAN buy a machine with NO OS from Dell

Simply call Dell and give them the details of what you want and then say you don't want an OS - they then just drop a copy of Freedos in the box and leave the harddrive blank.

I bought my last laptop (Latitude D620) this way. It's difficult to say how much I saved as the sales rep discounted the whole system from the web price anyway! Incidentally there tends to be more room for discount on the business machines.

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Anonymous Coward

Harry Horseliver

"Most users wouldn't actually notice they had linux installed - especially a linux like Ubuntu."

I disagree. Harry Homeowner mentioned above might not notice until he tries to install Microsoft Flight Simulator 2007, at which point he would be on the phone to Dell asking for help. It is possible that Dell might be able to talk him through the procedure for emulating Windows XP with Ubuntu, installing MS Flight Simulator in this virtual Windows, getting everything to work etc, but it seems more likely to me that Harry Homeowner will be upset and demand a new machine. At this point you are thinking "what a stupid fool this Harry Homeowner chap is", and with that attitude I wish you luck and bid you goodbye.

I installed the previous version of Ubuntu on some spare hardware I had. It was a mixed bunch of components, but Ubuntu spotted them all, and worked, and I was very impressed. The problem was that it didn't pick up my broadband modem, a Speedtouch model. If this had been my only machine I would have been stuck forevermore. Thankfully I had Windows '98 on my main computer, and I found that the procedure for getting a Speedtouch modem to work with Ubuntu involves extracting the firmware from the modem and then copying several lines of a configuration file into the Ubuntu shell, mutatis mutandis. I did this, and now I have a machine that can surf the internet and do wordprocessing, backed with a community made up of A Certain Kind of Person. I had enough free time and an iron will with which to fix this problem. Harry Homeowner might have had things to do such as cooking, shopping, life etc. What a fool this Harry Homeowner is, for not devoting a couple of hours a day learning how to maintain and use Linux.

Which self-respecting Linux fan is going to want a machine with a Dell sticker on the side? What kind of kudos will that bring? None at all. These Dell Linux fans are going to find themselves despised and scorned by Windows fans and Linux fans alike. They will be lashed from both sides.

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Pay more for Linux

In the past, specials with Windows, were cheaper than the Linux version.

The only way that Linux on Dell will be useful is if the Linux-installed version is at least a few dollars cheaper. Seeing how easy it is to add Linux as a dual boot option (and not worry about compatibility with M$ media formats under Linux), why not get it if the price is the same or higher for a Linux version?

My year-old Inspiron 1505 is set up with a 15 GB Windows partition and Ubuntu has the other 60 or so GB.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: Is it actually POSSIBLE to install any OS on a DELL machine these days?

> I recommend to anybody to use whatever OS they feel comfortable with, but don't buy one of these mass-produced corner-cut shams. You'll hit a brick wall the minute you diverge from the bare basic use-case.

Well said!

The site http://cexx.org/craputer.htm explains it all.

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Harry Home Owner ...

It sounds like Ubuntu works well enough until something out of the ordinary happens. Then you have to look under the hood and get your hands dirty with OS level stuff. At first blush, it would seem this fact would push our friend Harry into the waiting arms of Microsoft. But anybody that works in IT realized long ago that if a they can't print, the typical user calls for help FIRST. They don't read the documentation, they don't try to diagnose the problem. They want somebody else to fix it. Even if the fix is plugging it back into the wall socket. So what difference does it make if they guy they call to fix the printing issue is a Linux Penguin or Microsoft fanboi. They don't care. When the computer geek leaves, the printer works. When somebody has a computer problem, they call ME. Even when I'm not at work. I'm a systems integrator, not a PC Tech. But they think "Hey! Bob knows computers. He can fix it" and they ring me up. If Dell can get a system that runs out of the box and does what people expect and sell it for less money than a Windows system, people will buy it. And when it doesn't work, they will call me.

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Anonymous Coward

Another version of Colin Jackson's post...

I think you're over-stating the case when you make the point that [English is easy to learn and use]. In the forum I hang out, we ran an experiment. Six [native speakers of Mandarin Chinese] who had never [spoken English] before [were given a "Learn English quick-quick" language course]. Some [learned] the [Geordie] version and some the [Surrey] version (by some accounts the [Surrey] version is more [intelligible].

All but one had problems either [learning the language], [remembering the vocabulary], or [spelling common English words]. Issue ranged from [irregular verbs to inconsistent grammar to getting really p*ssed off with pronouncing bough, through, enough, cough, and dough properly].

To quote one of the participants: "I simply don't have the time to spend three hours attempting to [buy ingredients in Safeway for a takeaway banquet for eight] (and failing) what [a native Chinese does in Beijing] in two minutes and a couple of [wok] clicks...". Remember these are [Chinese people from 12,000 miles away]. "Too much hassle all of this", to quote another.

Meanwhile, experienced [Oxford Dons] were chipping in suggestions: "Use [a dictionary]", "Use [crib notes]" etc. All very well, but that's just over-loading a new user with strange stuff.

My own experience with it (as somebody who is somewhat familiar with it but not intimately familiar) is that it's fine until something out-of-the-ordinary occurs, then getting to grips with the [big words] suddenly becomes a matter of dealing with some very arcane aspects of the underlying [English language].

Experienced [English speakers] who were also playing with the new [West Country version - "OO-ARR" Professional] all reported a good experience and loved it. This suggests that while the current crop of 'user friendly' [dialects] really are user-friendly IF you know what you're doing, [English] still has a long way to go before a [Chinese person] unfamiliar with it is going to feel comfortable with it, much less [a Tibetan peasant]. And while this is the case, the market for [learning to speak like a Brummie] is never going to start growing even linearly, much less exponentially.

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Paying to go mainstream ?

The reason Dell Linux 1.0 failed was because the potential buyers felt that they were paying for Windows and increasing Microsoft's gain unwillingly. Also, there was not full commitment, as if it were a trick to show how uninteresting GNU/Linux is; a purposely backfire.

Now, with Dell Linux 2.0 it might be radically different, if the GNU/Linux preinstalled OEM computers have a price at least ten dollars cheaper than the corresponding Windows preinstallation and they are not counted as a Windows sale (this is an important detail).

It is very important that a big OEM such as Dell sells GNU/Linux preinstalled, because it is how Windows became ubiquitous. I have three daughters, all over twenty. Two of them bought a Dell laptop, with Windows XP preinstalled, one uses a Windows XP desktop at home although her husband is a GNU/Linux enthusiast, and my wife has a Toshiba laptop with Windows XP preinstalled. None of my family members take GNU/Linux seriously just because no major OEM preinstalls it.

Now, we are in a transition for the next two years. Many people are undecided, or unwilling, to jump into the Windows Vista migration, as are even government agencies. For the majority of people who are Windows users because GNU/Linux does not support their favorite application, Dell should announce a special setup: Two OSs in One: preinstallation of GNU/Linux with Windows XP as a virtual machine under it. I am sure that it would raise the curiosity and impulse to buy of many people in the world. Or simply, preinstall GNU/Linux with a virtual framework, so that the user can install any OS as a virtual machine: DOS, Windows 3, 95, 98, ME, NT, 2k, XP, another GNU/Linux distribution, except Windows Vista. This would be real nice and raise the public opinion of Dell quite high, without adding major support problems.

My family members are like Harry Homeowner; they want things to work without problems. They might buy a GNU/Linux preinstalled Dell or Toshiba computer, if they had this option.

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