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Dell To Pre-Install Ubuntu on Consumer PCs
Michael Dell's new laptop, which Dell said last week is suporting Ubuntu

On Tuesday, ironically enough May Day - at least somebody in Round Rock hasn't lost their sense of humor - Dell announced that it would be pre-installing Ubuntu 7.04, a k a Feisty Fawn, from South Africa's up-and-coming Linux distributor Canonical on some of its consumer-bent laptops and desktops.

Michael Dell's new laptop, which Dell said last week is sporting Ubuntu, proved an accurate weathervane of the company's intentions.

The much-heralded move is meant to scratch the itch of those Linux devotees who wrote in to Dell's IdeaStorm suggestion box asking Dell for a factory-installed Linux option. The abiding question was which one. Dell said a survey found Ubuntu was the "most requested option."

Dell tried selling Linux-based desktops and laptops for a couple of years back at the fin de siècle but quit in 2001 because demand was so low.

Just how big the demand is now remains to be seen. Dell could just be pandering to a vocal minority and risking making naïve consumers unhappy.

Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony, himself a Linux desktop peddler in bed with Canonical, said in an open letter on Tuesday that Linux was still an enthusiasts play, that Linux on the desktop is still one to three years away from being a mainstream market, and that "we have cautioned Dell to only expect to sell between 50,000 to 100,000 PCs to the current Linux market. In Dell standards, this hardly moves the needle. We have told them they can expect a bump in sales from the enthusiast market, but that it will quickly drop, as demand from that small market is satisfied."

If Carmony's prediction is true, one might of course observe that 50,000-100,000 boxes mean a lot more to Dell than they used to.

HP doesn't see significant demand in the US either.

There was no hint from Dell, which intends to start selling the Linux gear "in the coming weeks," of what price tag, relative to Windows, the Linux boxes will carry. Apparently there will be an option to buy support from Canonical.

There was also no indication of what the overall deal is worth financially to Canonical and may be numbers-based. The PR is probably priceless.

Unlike most ambitious Linux distros, Canonical started on the desktop, with a reportedly slicker, easier-to-use OS than most, and then started pushing its server. Dell said nothing about servers. Besides Dell, Canonical is also tight with Sun.

Dell will continue to factory-install Red Hat on Precision workstations for those who ask for it and its business systems are Novell-certified. It has added Linux to its Dell Forums and given it pride of place.

Oh, by the way, about Carmony, he thinks that Ubuntu isn't fit for the mass market and that Dell will ultimately need something like Linspire, which mixes open source with proprietary like DVD, Flash, Windows Media, Quicktime and 3D graphics drivers.

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SYS-CON's Linux News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the Linux world and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for IT/IS managers and other business decision-makers.

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