Michael Dell’s Linux, the Death of BlackBerry, 3 More Dads and Grads Gift Ideas

I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to folks who want to try the Dell Linux solution. I’m getting the sense that we have all been looking at Linux on the desktop wrong, and that products likeLinspire are simply wrongheaded.

Last week, Research In Motion may have actually destroyed the BlackBerry’s growth opportunity in large enterprise and government. I wouldn’t touch the platform with a 10-foot pole now, and I’ll bet a number of my peers quickly come to the same conclusion.

Finally, and I’m having a lot of fun with this, I’ll be suggesting another three things to buy for your dad or grad.

The Future of Dell and Linux

One of the problems with an established market — like, say, the mainframe market a few decades ago — is that emerging products and markets are filtered through the same set of core concepts. This leads to otherwise smart people either assuming failure or assuring it through bad decisions.

Michael Dell is so intent on making this work hehas taken to carrying a high-performance Linux laptop himself from time to time. His runs Ubuntu 7.04, VMware, Open Office, Automatix2, Firefox and Evolution (to connect to e-mail).

It is very unusual for a CEO to take a personal interest in a project like this, and he has made it clear that he doesn’t want anything to go out that he, personally, can’t be proud of. That says a lot for how serious he is about this effort.

I’ve been talking to a number of people who are thinking of trying this Dell program both on a small and a large scale. I also observed the last time the company did this, and I know — probably nearly as well as Dell does — that Linux simply does not throw off the kind of lucrative secondary business that Windows does on desktops.

That doesn’t mean the problem can’t be solved, but it does mean you have to solve it differently and look for ways to control costs up front.

Part of that has to be finding ways to leverage the Linux model and not fight it — and the Linux model puts the responsibility for support on the Linux community and not the vendor selling the hardware.

Up to the Linux Community

This would take you down a completely different path than the one you take for Windows, where the support responsibility is shared between Microsoft and the vendor, but the vendor carries much of the initial responsibility.

This suggests that Dell not preload Linux at all, but provide systems that can be imaged by their Linux customers — configured with hardware that already has broad Linux driver support.

In effect, the hardware configurations would largely be dictated by what worked best with the greatest number of Linux distributions, and that would be based largely on feedback from the people currently using Linux.

In short, rather than building for performance or price leadership, the Linux systems would be built — at least initially — to be the best for the most Linux distributions, and much of the support would be passed on to the buyer after the fact.

Limited support would focus primarily on maintaining links to current resources, having up-to-date drivers, and providing advice on how to accomplish critical tasks so that Linux customers would see a sustained value from remaining connected to Dell.

I’m slowly coming around to the idea this will work, but I remain concerned that Linux supporters won’t cut Dell enough slack so it can flesh out the solution. Remember, we’ve had decades to build the structure that supports Windows on the desktop, and we don’t really have anything like it for Linux. As we’ve discussed, Linux can’t simply slide into the Windows support structure, because it doesn’t throw off enough profit and there is no “Microsoft” — there isn’t even a single version of “Linux.”

In the end, the success or failure of this offering will come down to how helpful and tolerant the Linux supporters are. If they vocally cheer Dell on, come to Dell’s defense as they would one of their own, and prevent the kind of nasty personal attacks that are all too common on the Web today, Dell will likely stick with this effort until it is successful. If they don’t, Dell will grow tired of the pain and move on, and it will be years before another OEM (original equipment manufacturer) tries this again, if ever.

RIM Blows Off Customers and Makes Motorola’s Day

Last week, RIM had one of the nastiest blackouts in the history of this technology segment. It was down for an extended period of time without warning or explanation.

On Friday, the company issued the lamest apology I’ve ever seen. In a techno-worded piece, RIM basically said it didn’t adequately test a software update — or its recovery process. It didn’t even try to address why the company didn’t tell anyone anything for so long, but sort of said it would try to fix things.

RIM should have simply said that it really screwed up. It should have punished with extreme prejudice the folks who didn’t test the update, who didn’t ensure the recovery process, and who didn’t tell customers what was going on in a timely manner — this last actually being the most critical failing.

It should have done the Jet Blue thing of making it clear that the CEO was going to personally assure that this wouldn’t happen again.

RIM’s behavior came across like the company simply didn’t care that it had left every single one of its customers high and dry, in what felt like the most incredibly stupid and arrogant misstep I’ve seen from any vendor in years.

We expect our communications devices to work. If there is an outage, we require the vendor let us know, tell us how long it will last, and provide some suggestions as to a workaround while it continues to go on. RIM did none of that.

The result was thousands of people wasting time trying to “fix” their Blackberries, calling their service providers and IT shops to get them fixed — and calling them names when they couldn’t — and even throwing them on the ground in disgust when they wouldn’t work. I wonder how many Blackberries were destroyed as a result of this fiasco.

RIM sells to large corporations and governments that have little tolerance for this kind of behavior from any vendor, and now likely view RIM as a problem to solve. Even the customers who were left high and dry are probably thinking it is time to make a change now, because who wants to depend on an undependable vendor?

This creates problems for RIM but a huge opportunity for Motorola, which has the closest thing to a RIM solution in its Q and Good Technology solution. Good, which Motorola acquired a few months back, provides a service that’s nearly identical to RIM, and the Q is actually more portable than most of RIM’s current BlackBerry line.

I went from RIM to Good myself a number of months ago on a Q, and the transition was very easy and the result was as good — and sometimes arguably better — than what I got from my aging BlackBerry.

If Motorola and maybe even Palm (new hardware is expected soon from Palm) can capitalize on the concerns that RIM has created with its lack of customer respect, they could make a killing here.

In the end — and this is the second time something like this has happened — RIM has shown itself to be untrustworthy, and that should have broad implications for the company going forward. I sure couldn’t recommend it to anyone now, and I imagine many others feel the same.

More Gifts for Dads and Grads

We’ll go a little more affordable this week and look at three products: one that conceals your tech, one that anticipates the iPhone, and one a bargain for the PC gamer.

The first isScottevest. This company makes a line of clothing with James Bond-like pockets that can easily conceal your electronic gear while still allowing you to listen to the music.

It offers shirts, pants, casual wear, and some really cool convertible jackets (I have one of these) that can be turned into vests. Prices range from around US$35 for T-Shirts, to $450 for leather dress jackets. Scottevest has aTactical 4.0 system that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in the market. It’s $340, but it gives you two jackets with seven different looks. For the Secret Agent in all of us.

The problem with iPod headsets and PC headsets is the wires. You can get tangled up — and particularly if you use them on planes to listen to airline programming. The best wireless stereo headset I’ve found, and one that should be great with the new iPhone, is thePlantronics Ultimate Stereo Bluetooth Headset. You can find it for around $110 online if you shop around. It comes with a Bluetooth adapter that will work with an iPod, but it’s better with a good music phone — like an iPhone — and it looks like desk art in its charging stand. Really cool.

For gamers, one of the biggest bargains in the segment is theGateway FX 530. This product gives up a little on cool outside looks for kick-butt performance, and Gateway was really the first to fully make use of the overclocking capability in the new Intel Core 2 Extreme Edition processors.

At $1,200 it gives you a lot of power for what is a very reasonable price. It also has the Nvidia GeForce 8800, which is currently the fastest graphics card on the market. I often don’t say “bargain” and “gaming” in the same sentence, but I can here. If you like power more than flash, this is one hell of a nice system. Incredibly hot.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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