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Dell Backpedals on Preloading Linux
Dell Backpedals on Preloading Linux

By Jennifer LeClaire
February 28, 2007 9:10AM

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In forums on the IdeaStorm Web site -- Dell's new customer-suggestion channel -- Dell users expressed dismay over the company's clarification that it would not preload GNU/Linux on Dell computers, at least for the time being. While Dell is certifying certain business PCs for Novell's SuSE Linux platform, the company has no immediate plans to support a preloaded Linux distribution.

The Linux camp's ears perked up earlier this week when Dell said it planned to unveil a new line of certified, Linux-loaded desktop and laptop PCs. But business users who want to buy a Dell machine with the open-source operating system preinstalled won't have that Linux luxury in the near-term.

Although Dell is dancing around the idea of reintroducing Linux desktops and notebooks, the computer maker said it won't make a move until one of the competing flavors of Linux emerges as a business favorite. Dell now maintains that it doesn't want to pick one Linux distribution and alienate users with a preference for another.

Dell is, however, certifying its corporate client products, including OptiPlex desktops, Latitude notebooks, and Dell Precision workstations with Novell SuSE Linux. The company also said it would work with other distributions and might add additional certifications across its product lines. But the clarification that it would not preinstall Linux has met with a customer backlash.

Corporate Users Speak Out

Some of the Dell users who suggested that the company offer Linux-loaded computers felt snubbed by news that it wouldn't. Dell had received some 1,800 suggestions through its IdeaStorm site clamoring for open-source solutions. Now, scores of complaints over Dell's decision not to preinstall Linux are springing up on the IdeaStorm comment board.

"Tell [Dell] that this lip service thing they seem to be doing sucks, tell them we want what we asked for... This site isn't about asking corporations what they want Dell to do for them, this is clearly targeted at regular consumers," wrote one user by the name of "Shrewduser."

"The only thing I can think of is that Dell is caving under pressure from Microsoft," a user named "Hedgefighter" wrote, noting that offering the Ubuntu distribution and offering hardware support alone would not be a difficult proposition for Dell.

A user named "Eevargas," an I.T. consultant and network administrator who has been using Linux for the past three years, took it one step further. "The only reason why Linux is not as popular as its competitors is because companies like Dell are afraid of uncle Bill." Eevargas was referring to Microsoft Chairman Bill gates.

Dell Answers Back

Dell spokesperson Jeremy Bolen declined to respond directly to accusations that Dell is bowing to pressure from Microsoft, choosing rather to point out that the company offers corporate products certified for Novell SuSE Linux. The open-source community and its users, Bolen said, have the opportunity to help define the market so Dell can settle on a distribution that meets the needs of a broad range of customers.

"If we do support an operating system, we are going to put the resources behind it to make sure they have the support they need and that our sales staff is trained to direct them to the right product," Bolen said.

Before Dell ships a product with an operating system, he added, the company conducts testing to make sure it works and provides support long after the product stops shipping. Dell is choosing to wait until it can provide robust support for a dominant distribution rather than investing time and energy to test and support multiple distributions.

Bolen did not speculate as to when Dell might make a decision on which Linux distribution to preinstall on its machines, but he assured corporate users that the company is monitoring the market. "We are talking to the different distributors and staying abreast of developments within the market and within even specific distributions," he noted. "We are not ruling anything out at this point."

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