Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Dell and Ubuntu: deal or no deal?

Dell and Ubuntu: deal or no deal?

Have Michael Dell and Mark Shuttleworth come to some kind of understanding that will see Dell machines out on the shelves soon with Ubuntu installed?

Shuttleworth says no - but then one doesn't expect him to say anything different. To quote the man: "I won't describe any conversations we may or may not be having with another company. Ubuntu now has sufficient community and momentum that there are likely to be proponents of the distribution in every large company, and I think we do now speak quite regularly with every major IHV, but that doesn't mean that our conversations have turned to pre-installation. As you can see from that blog, I'm very aware of the constraints that apply to the global PC industry and would not try to push any company to ship Linux to the mass market without at least
having some new ideas to address those constraints."

Quite a mouthful. But the fact is he can't admit to having talks with Dell, else the article he wrote, justifying that company's reaction to the mass request for Linux on Dell machines, would be interepreted as being the work of a shill.

A little bit of history for the casual reader: in March this year, Dell invited the public at large to send in ideas about what products they wanted from the company. This was because the computer maker had lost its position as number 1 to HP and the board was sufficiently worked up to ask the founder to come back and head the company. It made Dell look "customer-focused." (Yeah, I have a stock of weasel words at the ready.)

The masses got in on the act and an overwhelming number suggested that Dell offer Linux as an option on its machines at the point of sale. But then Dell started doing the customary fan dance which many companies do at the time when customers make inconvenient suggestions; a host of weasel words were used to skirt the issue.

The response said the company could not give its customers what they asked for (never mind that people would buy these products) because there were too many distributions of Linux and Dell did not want to settle on any one as it would end up not catering to those who wanted other distributions. Brilliant. And also quite stupid.

Then Shuttleworth came up with his piece that supported Dell's weasel words. I reacted by casting reasonable doubt on most of his assertions. (As a side note, it's interesting to point out that any time one writes something that is negative about either Ubuntu or Shuttleworth, there are a bunch of fanboys who jump on the writer and use every tactic in the book - even racial epithets - to try and distract people from the facts on offer. Such people believe that the defence in a case should prove a man innocent; they do not go by the ancient laws of justice which say the prosecution should prove a man guilty while the defence only has to prove reasonable doubt. There are lots of such intelligent individuals around.)


Back to the present. After Shuttleworth wrote that piece, he was quoted in an interview as saying that the time for mass consumer sales of Linux on the desktop had not yet come - in other words, again endorsing Dell's reaction to its customer feedback. (I'd like to invite him to try out a rival distribution, Xandros, and then comment on the desktop readiness or otherwise of Linux.)

Following this, we suddenly had the appearance on the net of the fact that Michael Dell runs Ubuntu. It looked to be nicely stage-managed and a process that was working in instalments towards an announcement that Dell would install and sell Ubuntu on its hardware.I asked Shuttleworth if he was aware at the time of writing his piece in defence of Dell that Michael Dell was using Ubuntu on his laptop? His reply: "No! I was apparently the last to know, since I wasn't watching Slashdot closely enough."

I asked whether the recent emergence of that fact was  some kind of coincidence. He replied: "I wouldn't read too much into it. I'm thrilled with the news, but it may just be a statement from Dell that 'we're cool and down with the smart kids' rather than a long term commitment to Linux on the desktop."

Finally, I asked the big question: When can we expect the formal announcement from Dell that it will sell PCs with Ubuntu installed? Shuttleworth said: "Your crystal ball is likely as clear as mine on that front. In geological terms, quite soon I imagine - no more than 2 or 3 million years at the outside."

God has spoken so now I guesss everyone who wants a good desktop distribution should start looking at Xandros instead.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.