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Dell Linux Still Won't Kill Windows

Bruise it slightly, perhaps. But seriously, would you or your company buy a Linux PC from Dell this year? How much would you pay for support?

Bruise it slightly, perhaps. But seriously, would you or your company buy a Linux PC from Dell this year? How much would you pay for support?Michael Dell and former CEO Kevin Rollins are smart guys. Twenty years ago, they saw Microsoft Windows as the preferred fertilizer for cubicle farms and they made it the mainstay of the company from the beginning.

Now the company reports it will slowly add more Linux to its repertoire -- very slowly. Outside of its Linux on the server campaign (it is "Unbreakable" after all); Dell has offered desktop Linux PCS vis-à-vis a FreeDOS disk where customers could then install their distro of choice. But the latest maneuver casts Dell in the part of the chicken in a field of committed pigs. Even HP and Lenovo have more established open source sales channels than they do in Round Rock.

That's why I submit that Dell's adoption of Linux is similar to its CPU debate last year. Would Dell ever break its bonds with Intel? Could it ever fly the AMD banner over the building that had Intel Inside? Every other week Rollins and/or Dell teased reporters with tidbits like: "We're always considering what the customer wants," or straightforward "Not today" remarks. Dell finally bit the bullet, but only after it got enough customers demanding Opteron chips for Dell to see a profit margin.

See any similarities? Sure, you do.

Here are two more reasons Dell won't kick Microsoft out of bed for eating crackers: Desktop Linux is still immature and there are very few up-sell benefits for Dell salespeople and online orders when it comes to a Linux box.

To be fair, Dell will successfully sell a percentage of Linux PCs starting either later this year or next. How many that will be remains to be seen. We in the tech press will ponder and pontificate about its significance. But unless Windows Vista is a total bomb (which it might turn out to be) or Windows XP develops so many security holes that hackers dismiss it as Swiss cheese, Microsoft is still the Mack Daddy of Dell.

Disagree? Then consider what analysts are saying.

"A Linux user is a techie; a Windows end user is not always a techie, so it's unlikely the support cost is going to have any significant impact on Dell," Sam Bhavnani, analyst for Current Analysis, said. "If consumers were to buy pre-installed Linux, then Dell would be in for some really serious support headaches."

A large number of corporations have gone through the replacement cycle of Y2K and it's quite doubtful that if Gartner is predicting Windows Vista will only be a blip on PC sales in 2007, that sales of Linux desktop machines will take an even slimmer slice of the corporate and home-user pie.

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