Ensuring the Success of Dell's Desktop Linux

Will Linux advocates be the ones to doom Dell’s Linux desktop push?


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I’m watching the progress that Dell is making with their second desktop Linux effort and am increasingly wondering how long before the Linux supporters make it clear to Dell this is a bad idea. While some are being patient, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that many don’t fundamentally understand why this is vastly more difficult than it looks, and why Dell will desperately need their support, not their constant criticism, to justify continuing the effort.

This week let me try to explain why it is nearly impossible, but not actually impossible, to do desktop Linux from an OEM’s perspective and why, right now, most of Dell’s competitors are betting Dell will fail in this effort.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think Microsoft will cause this to fail. I don’t think Windows users will cause this to fail. I’m damn near convinced that Linux supporters will cause this to fail, and that is the problem that will need to be addressed if this is to succeed.

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Resetting Expectations

Linux isn’t Windows. Yes, I know you think you know this, but do you really understand the differences from a desktop deployment perspective? With Windows there is a massive amount of support that an OEM gets not only from Microsoft but from a secondary ecosystem that is now decades old and fully tested. This system is integrated into everything from product design through product testing and delivery and has no real analog on the Linux side. And, if anything goes wrong, you can almost generically blame Microsoft (whether or not it is actually their fault).

Expectations, however, often seem to be on both sides that the experience will be similar. It can’t be. For Linux to work, it has to depend on the Linux support structure that is embedded in the shop that is deploying Linux.

This means Dell cannot realistically give you the distribution you want on the hardware you want all wrapped up in a bow with full support. Once they know what you want and what drivers are already available, they should be able to give you a few choices that will work with the distribution you have already chosen to apply yourself. They may suggest another, similar, distribution and you should seriously consider their suggestion if you want the result to meet expectations.

They can’t fully support Linux as it is likely to be deployed, but they can help you support it. This means that much of the break/fix capability has to remain in your shop and you need to do a better job of initial product testing, because once the system is imaged, Dell’s capabilities for supporting it will be dramatically reduced.

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