Dell’s Linux PC Shop Opens for Business

Following weeks of anticipation, open source software fans can now buy three Dell computers preloaded with Linux.

The machines — the XPS 410n and Dimension E520n desktops, and the Inspiron E1505n notebook — have factory-installedUbuntu 7.04 Linux operating systems.

The Battle for Linux

Although the move is expected to lure some Linux enthusiasts into the company’s fold, it has likely alienated a big segment of the open source community who might feel jilted by Dell.

“That is a pretty good smack to Red Hat and Novell,” Jonathan Eunice, a principal analyst with Illuminata, told LinuxInsider. “To choose an upstart like Ubuntu with its Debian-based platform is going to rub them the wrong way.”

Red Hat and Novell have invested heavily over the years in keeping the desktop market for Linux alive, Eunice pointed out, and so are probably wondering why Dell didn’t opt for their Linux systems.

However, there is some logic behind Dell’s choice, he allowed.

“Ubuntu is very popular and refined,” Eunice said, “and it is seen is an up and comer. Product wise, it is a strong product.”

Customer Demand

Dell is quick to say the release of these Ubuntu-powered systems is the result of an outpouring of customer demand at its IdeaStorm Web site, but the company likely had plans for the move in its back pocket for some time.

“Dell has been thinking about Linux for some years now, and at one point did it (installed it on some desktops), but didn’t get good uptake,” Eunice said.

In the past, Dell hasn’t had much incentive to load machines with Linux. However, with the company foundering of late, taking a not-so-risky chance like this is a good idea, he added.

“They need to change to regain momentum, and ideas that might not have worked before look better now,” Eunice said.

Taking Requests

The decision was made all the more easy for Dell in light of the flood of requests hitting its IdeaStorm Web site.

It was the “interest and enthusiasm” of customers who asked the company to deliver a consumer Linux solution that spurred the company to deliver “in a phenomenally short period of time,” said Neil Hand, vice president of Dell Consumer Product Group.

“It’s fantastic to be able to offer what many Linux enthusiasts want: great Dell products with popular open source software for work and play,” Hand said.

Everyone Is Doing It

Other PC makers, including HP and Lenovo, already have Linux-equipped models on the market. However, those are primarily customized machines; retail demand for the open source OS is minuscule compared to that for Windows.

Dell’s Ubuntu laptop starts at US$599, while the two desktops, the Dimension E520 and XPS 410n, start at $599 and $849, respectively. A comparable XPS 410 with Windows Vista Premium costs $899.

Licensing Costs

There are no software licensing costs associated with Ubuntu; the cost of each system allows Dell to offer competitive prices.

Dell will provide hardware support for the machines. Users will have fee-based options for operating system support throughCanonical, including 30-day get started, one-year basic and one-year standard plans.

Basic software support is also available at a variety of dedicated Web sites and Linux forums.

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