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Dell Won't Preinstall Ubuntu Linux On Small-Business Computers

The computer maker will sell only the hardware and let small-business customers install the open-source operating system themselves.
If you're a small business hoping to buy a Dell desktop with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled, then you're out of luck.

The computer maker will sell only the hardware, for as low as $259, and let small-business customers install the open-source operating system themselves. Dell provides support for the hardware, but not for the software, which the company offers preinstalled in consumer PCs.

"We don't have any systems on the business side that come with Ubuntu," a salesman told an InformationWeek reporter posing as a small-business customer Thursday. "But we do sell open-source desktops that don't come with an operating system." Those systems come with FreeDOS on a CD, ready to install.

A Dell small-business spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

In May, Dell started offering two consumer desktops and a notebook with Ubuntu preinstalled, giving the free software a far higher profile than it had before in the PC market. Until Dell, no other computer maker with market clout had made a similar commitment to Linux for consumers.

But even with those machines, Dell has been cautious with support, apparently trying to avoid an avalanche of tech-help calls from consumers who lack sufficient know-how to run an open-source system. While providing its usual hardware support, software help is offered through a variety of dedicated Web sites and Linux forums. Buyers can choose service upgrades from Canonical, the sponsor of Ubuntu. Service options include a 30-day get started service and a one-year basic or standard service.

Dell's refusal to sell Ubuntu machines to small businesses makes sense, because those customers typically want PCs that let them get to work right away. "It makes sense because the assumption is they want everything to work right out of the box," Richard Shim, analyst for IDC, said. "With something like Ubuntu, it's going to require some tinkering."

Because of unpredictable driver support for peripherals, Linux on the desktop often requires some work to set up, which isn't a problem for technology enthusiasts, among the biggest users of Linux desktops. For businesses, the priorities are different. "You don't care what the technology is, you just want to be productive and reach your goals," Shim said.

Dell decided to offer preinstalled Linux to consumers after an outpouring of requests from customers on the company's feedback site, IdeaStorm.