Linux on Dell's? (April 6, 2007)
I just noticed that on Dell's Idea Storm site, quite a lot of
the proposals are about pre-installing Linux on their machines. I
wonder if Dell will go for it?
I have long been interested in the idea of pre-installed Linux
machines. Right now, if you want to use Linux, you face two learning
curves: using Linux, and installing Linux. Installing is actually the
larger of the two learning curves for many people. If you plan to
simply use pre-configured stuff from Ubuntu, then time spend on
installation details is mostly wasted. I use Debian, on which Ubuntu is based, and
it has taken many
tweaks to get my Thinkpad into a good state.
So should Dell do it? My thoughts about the good and bad
I hope Dell goes for it, and they will not do badly if they do, but it
is not obvious to me whether they will get a net win. Perhaps the
main reason for Dell to bet here would be that the cost is low and the
possible benefits substantial.
- Good: Dell would occupy a mostly uncontested niche: laptops with
normal Linux installations.
- Bad: Dell would add a constraint on the hardware they include,
because it would be embarrassing to ship a Linux laptop where some of
the hardware does not have drivers. For hardware that Just Works in
Linux, they will have a low burden. For other hardware, they will
have to either disable it, or convince the manufacturer to develop a
driver, or get the Windows driver to work in Linux, or develop their
own driver. This constraint can play out many ways, but the net
effect is an extra burden on Dell.
- Bad: The Linux side would likely be unpolished. Dell will need
some careful spin control to keep their brand name from being dragged
down by the flaky parts. Perhaps the line they can take is: the Linux
side is for those who want to take off the hood and get their hands
into the machine. As an alternative: the Linux side is for those who
want to experiment with the raw future of computing.
- Good: "Open source" has a positive connotation much like
environmental protection or poverty relief. Microsoft got trashed for
giving away their web browser for free; Netscape and IBM have gotten
kudos for equally predatorially  giving away software, but also
making that software open source. Dell would rather be the IBM or
Netscape in this picture, not the Microsoft.
 It is a subject for another day, but I do not really think
predatorial is a useful word here. The companies are simply
competing. However, "predatory companies" is held as a useful concept
by many people, much like Freudian analysis and astrology. For
marketing purposes, you cannot ignore this.