Dell on Tuesday said that it would sell consumer desktops and notebooks with Ubuntu Linux in the "coming weeks," taking the open source operating system to the mainstream consumer.
The computer maker said last month that it would offer Linux in consumer PCs, but had yet to chose a flavor. In opting to offer Linux as an alternative to Windows, Dell is responding to strong customer demand for the machines on the company's online sounding board, IdeaStorm. "We will offer select consumer desktop and notebook products with Ubuntu 7.04 in the coming weeks," a Dell spokesman said in an e-mail.
Dell has declined to discuss configurations, so it's not known whether it would offer a desktop or notebook at a price lower than PCs running Microsoft Windows. Dell also could opt to sell higher-end Linux machines that would appeal to tech enthusiasts.
Whatever the price range, Dell will have to be sure to spell out what the systems can do and who's best suited for such a machine. Selling the computers to mainstream consumers unaccustomed to a non-Windows system could lead to some major support headaches. "They'll have to be very clear in the marketing of the system," said Richard Shim, analyst for IDC.
In general, however, consumers are expected to stay clear of Linux, which could prove challenging for less-savvy computer users. Among the problems associated with the operating system is the lack of drivers for some peripherals. In addition, many popular Windows applications are unavailable on Linux. "They're bound to have some headaches," Shim said of Dell support. "It's just to what degree."
Ubuntu 7.04, code-named Feisty Fawn, is the latest release of the operating system that's considered among the most consumer-friendly Linux distributions. A community of open source developers that formed three years ago is responsible for the operating system.
At least half of the Linux fans who participated in an IdeaStorm survey said they wanted Dell to ship free, open source software with the operating system and drivers available under the GNU General Public License, which also covers Linux.
Dell won't say which software it plans to ship with the machines, but it has said it's committed to using open source drivers whenever possible. Drivers that already ship with the Linux kernel, such as those for storage, wired networking, power management, and USB ports, won't be a problem. In cases where there's a choice between proprietary and open source, such as in wireless network adapters and printers, Dell will go with the latter. There will be exceptions, however, such as 3-D drivers for video cards, for which Dell has decided to provide proprietary versions. In those cases, it comes down to what works best.
Dell won't say whether it will offer hardware-only support with the Linux PCs, but it has been quick to point out how much Linux support is available online through the open source community. Dell, which sells preinstalled Linux servers, has on its site forums for system administrators, as well as for Linux hobbyists.