Dell to Expand Linux Options

March 13, 2007

Matt Domsch, Linux Software Architect

Your feedback on Dell IdeaStorm [ ] has been astounding.  Thank you!  We hear your requests for desktops and notebooks with Linux [ ].  We’re crafting product offerings in response, but we’d like a little more direct feedback from you: your preferences, your desires.  We recognize some people prefer notebooks over desktops, high-end models over value models, your favorite Linux distribution, telephone-based support over community-based support, and so on.  We can’t offer everything (all systems, all distributions, all support options), so we’ve crafted a survey ( to let you help us prioritize what we should deliver for you.

Taking a few minutes to complete this survey [ ] will help us define our forthcoming Linux-based system offerings. We will close the survey on Friday, March 23. From there, we’ll take some time to analyze your feedback and work to provide the platforms and options you choose.

Thanks in advance for your participation. More details soon.

Update:  We're overwhelmed by your responses, and we know the survey server is overloaded too.  We're working on it, and the survey will remain open until March 23, so you'll have plenty of time to make your vote count.

9:00 AM

Jakob Petsovits

March 13, 2007

I think a very important issue that hasn't been included in the survey is the importance of 100% free software compatible hardware. This is especially an issue with laptops, where it's not so easy to swap internal components, like modems, flash media readers, and most of all graphics cards. I think the right direction would be to make sure that the components used in Dell laptops and desktop PCs runs with a standard Linux kernel, without having to load proprietary modules. Based on their popularity and lack of vendor choice, you'll need to make an exception for graphics cards here, but for standard I/O like on-board network cards, on-board modems, PC card slots, wifi cards (the Centrino ones), flash media slots or finger-print readers it's actually very easy to get hardware with open source drivers. You only have to make a concious choice in favor of them. When I bought my last laptop (an HP nc6320, I might add) I selected it very much because it can run with open source drivers only. Actually I paid a bit more for this laptop than I would have paid for another one with nVidia or ATI graphics instead of the Intel graphics chip, but the trouble-free operation now is worth the additional selection effort by multiple times. Also, the high amount of ThinkPad buyers in the open source scene doesn't come out of nowhere, IBM has built a reputation for hardware that just works with Linux. So my suggestion would be as follows: - For all (or most) Dell models, place importance on the availability of open source drivers for the hardware. Don't deliver Linux on systems that need proprietary drivers (especially graphics) to work flawlessly, because those are the ones that are most likely to get you disappointed users and a million support calls. - Select a few models (a few Inspirons, a few Latitudes, etc.) that work perfectly with open-source-only drivers (integrated Intel graphics, Centrino WiFi, etc., as mentioned above), and preinstall your chosen Linux distribution on them. The Linux community will love you for that (hopefully). - If they prove successful enough, you can still broaden the Linux option onto other models, at the same time increasing pressure on the hardware vendors to ship open source drivers so that there is no risk of the user's system being messed up on potentially every upgrade. Which in turn gets you satisfied users and less support calls. Oh, and try to deliver properly working BIOSes. Many of them, including mine, are bug-ridden (which makes suspend fail, and causes the battery status not being updated most of the time) and contain erroneous ACPI tables. That BIOS issue is mostly a consequence of being tested on Windows only - it shouldn't be too hard to get the BIOS working properly on non-Windows machines (and non-Linux, like *BSD, would benefit from this as well), but it has to be done in the first place. So much from my side, I hope my input is helpful to you.

11:01 AM

Jeff Rollin

March 13, 2007

I agree with Frank Russo, Joe, and Allan Gottlieb. Let me start by saying that you should NOT preload Novell's SLED - you will get a lot of negative feedback if you do, and negative feedback means low sales.

It's just possible that you know from my blog that I am a (some would say "vocal") Gentoo user. Despite that, and my misgivings on the distribution, I'm going to recommend that you install Ubuntu. It's not one of the ones that will get people uppity because they, through you, have spent money on a distribution they don't like; it's not "difficult" like Gentoo, and it's just possible that given the right hardware support, my qualms about Ubuntu will disappear. (People choosy enough to install another distro will simply be happy that you have chosen one that's not controversial).

Don't get me wrong - it would be absolutely fabulous for me if you DID install Gentoo - but it's probably not something that should factor as your ONLY Linux choice.

One other piece of advice, if I may. If you don't include proprietary codecs, I would advise customizing (or working with Ubuntu to customize) the desktop so that you have a link called "watch yer dvd movies 'ere" or something (obviously you're not going to call it that, but you get the idea). This would enable people to get started right away.

Lastly, I agree with those who advise against the use of hardware which requires proprietary drivers.

Thanks for letting me comment and best of luck with your Linux venture.

11:07 AM

Jon LeBlanc

March 13, 2007

My suggestion is to avoid going with the "most popular" Linux distribution and instead go and buy one. Dell Linux would vault you instantly into the Open Source world with your own set of developers ensuring that your Dell Linux distribution works on every computer you sell. Regarding enterprise and business customers, you need not jeopardize your current RH and SLED sales or agreements. Dell Linux would serve to cover the rest of your line up of products. The win-win is that an already successful and innovative Linux distribution (I'm thinking Mandriva here) would live on while Dell's paid corps of Linux coders would make the Open Source world stronger than ever.

Thanks for seeking or opinions.

11:40 AM

Peter Rock

March 13, 2007

Basically, if Dell offers a functional (decent 2D video and wireless) machine with GNU/Linux pre-installed with no proprietary drivers (wireless/video) or non-free BIOS, they will have my business indefinitely. And as an influential purchaser for computers in schools, I would do my best to recommend Dell as well.

I think using gNewSense as a base may be a good start. If you can offer a functional machine with gNewSense, then those that wish to forfeit their freedom can do so on their own by wiping gNS off and installing Ubuntu, FreeSpire, or Linspire as they are all a part of the same stack built originally from Debian.

I think it would be a mistake for Dell to underestimate the growing market building around the demand for a 100% free system. I don't see that market doing anything but getting stronger as time goes on. I think it would be wise to grab that base and build on it over the years. If Dell simply goes for the "Linux" crowd and aims for mediocrity by not working for a 100% free system, I think they lack vision. Again, I can't stress this enough - The demand for thoroughly free systems will only continue to grow.

12:48 PM

Rick Niles

March 13, 2007

I think Dell is "concerned" about the wrong things.

(1) We're not asking for techinical support, so don't worry about that.

(2) We don't care which distribution you use.

What we care about is:

(1) Hardware that works with the Linux kernel itself.  This means Dell could select hardware that already works with Linux or put pressure on hardware component vendors that don't have Linux support to do so.  E.g. use Intel wireless chipsets instead of Broadcom

(2) Don't make us pay a Microsoft tax.  Even if you can not reduce the price, promise us that none of the money we pay for the computer will be forwarded to Microsoft.

(3) Let us select Linux instead of Windows for OS selection in the ordering process.

 Rick Niles.

12:59 PM

Corrin Lakeland

March 13, 2007


I'd like to strongly agree with Uno Engborg and many other posters. What I want is machines that work, not preinstalled machines. We purchase work machines from you and, whether they're to be running linux or windows, the first thing we do is reformat them and install the company standard setup on it. 

That means even if we bought a machine from you running Ubuntu, we would wipe it to install it ourselves.  So, what is necessary for us is not linux preinstalled (though it might be for others, I'm only claiming to speak for myself.)  Instead, it is for machines that work really easily and really well with linux.

We have a low-end server (which, incidentially, we didn't by from you) that crashes too often.  Its motherboard sensors are not supported by lm-sensors so we cannot monitor it correctly to work out why.  We have a laptop that we're not installing linux on because the WiFi drivers are in beta and this laptop is used for client demonstrations - we cannot risk the wifi failing.

I have one of your computers as a personal workstation (BTX based, I think).  It has lots of things I like about it - the thing that is most important to me is it is almost silent and I can't stand computer noise.  But it has a fair chunk of things that don't work too:  the audio out port on the front is extremely noisy while the one at the back isn't.  The suplied keyboard would occasionally stop working and need to be unplugged/plugged in again (I've replaced it with a Logitech I found in work's odds'n'ends pile.)  I haven't checked the sensors since it is a workstation.  None of these faults would be improved by you installing ubuntu for me - they all require the chipsets used to have better linux support (UHCI and ALSA in my case I suppose).

2:03 PM


March 13, 2007

It is obvious that Dell cannot support every Linux distro and should focus on one. My preference would be Ubuntu. However, at very least there should be an option of purchasing a machine (a laptop in particular) without any OS installed at all; this would likely be acceptable to those who would rather install their own distro of choice. To that end Dell should also endeavour to use hardware supported by Linux, or at least clearly denote which of their products are Linux-friendly, thus eliminating a lot of guesswork from purchase decisions.

2:09 PM

Michael Surran

March 13, 2007

I agree with many of the other posts. My preference is (K)Ubuntu, but the key is that the hardware is fully supported. Areas that tend to be problematic include the wireless, video, modem, special buttons, sleep / suspend, and LCD.

I understand if you have to use some proprietary drivers (NVidia has good support for Linux in this way, IMHO), though you shouldn't have to do anything like ndiswrapper or wine. Anyway, I've never bought a Dell before, but if you offer a serious Linux-based Dell computer at a competitive cost, and you might just have a new customer!!

5:18 PM


March 13, 2007

Free software support is essential.  The GNU/Linux system should never compromise the values that have made it work so well.  I do not trust proprietary software at all.  I recommend Intel graphics cards since neither ATI nor Nvidia offer free drivers for their newer products.  Also, wifi drivers must not have binary blobs.  I prefer Debian or Ubuntu for my distro, but hardware support is more important than the choice of the distribution.  I really don't care about Marketing personally, but I know that Dell could be more profitable if it showed users that they had a choice.  Dell could make a lot of money if they would emphasize that a GNU/Linux system is not defective by design (since it doesn't contain DRM).  Package management can also be emphasized as a much easier way of installing software than loading it from a CD with a Wizard.

5:20 PM

Ross Kendall

March 13, 2007

Thanks for putting the survey up, and listening!

 I would just say again what many others have said: The most important kind of support is hardware support.

Pre-installation of a commercial distro is fine (Suse/RedHat), however people don't like paying for software they don't use, so keep at least one free option for those who wish to install their own choice of distro.

Keep up the good work.

5:25 PM

Copyright 2007