Consequences of Dell Embracing Ubuntu

At this point, Dell offers only one compelling Ubuntu-based product for home users--not enough to show that it is taking desktop Linux seriously.
Posted December 10, 2012

Matt Hartley

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Desktop Linux for brand new computers has come a long way. Not too many years ago, consumers had fairly limited options in this space, but today we have more options than I could have ever imagined.

One company offering desktop Linux on new systems is Dell. After seeing mixed success with its first line of Ubuntu PCs, Dell dumped Ubuntu almost entirely. But now Ubuntu is back with Dell's new ultrabook offering.

In this article, I'll examine what Dell diving back into the Ubuntu space means for Ubuntu adoption as a whole, whether other Ubuntu PC providers have cause for concern and whether or not Microsoft should be worried about Dell's latest position.

Dell Is Still a Microsoft Shop

Go to Dell.com and show me where I click to purchase the Ubuntu desktops. How about the link for buying a new Ubuntu-based Dell notebook?

That's right, you can't.

But you will find ample links to Microsoft-powered Dell PCs and notebooks.

Now at this point, some of you might point out that if I just visit the Small Business section and filter my search results down to FreeDOS and Linux, I will then have easy access to Dell PCs. To those who think this is acceptable, I beg to differ. Dell is completely missing any Ubuntu desktop PC options. And those available running FreeDOS offer specs that I would rate as fairly lackluster. An i3 CPU Dell for my next desktop PC? No thanks, I'll pass.

Meanwhile, both home and small office users alike have endless choices for Windows OS desktops thanks to Dell's partnership with Microsoft. Therefore, the idea that Dell is a friend to Ubuntu or to Linux on the desktop is laughable at best.

Outside of enterprise users, everyone else is left with slim pickings when it comes to PCs with Ubuntu pre-installed from Dell.

This leads me to wonder why people are getting excited about Dell offering Ubuntu computers at all. It's not like they're actually offering any real level of commitment to their Linux-using audience!

Dell's Project Sputnik

Recently, there has been a ton of excitement surrounding the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook. Aimed at developers, this ultrabook has seen quite a bit of press. Thanks to Dell's collaboration with Canonical early on, the XPS specs work well with Ubuntu 12.04. Overall, it's great to see collaboration between Dell and Canonical because it is adding more portable Ubuntu choices.

My concern, however, is that Dell may become bored with this partnership down the road. It's happened before with other projects, and when you combine that history with Dell's Microsoft partnership, you must be skeptical with regard to Dell's long-term commitment to Ubuntu.

It's worth noting that the XPS isn't the only built-for-Ubuntu ultrabook on the market. ZaReason, for example, offers an alternative, but its UltraLap 430 sadly lacks specs when held up against Dell's. ZaReason's ultrabook is cheaper, but the ZaReason model has only an i3/i5 processor compared to Dell's i7. Had ZaReason decided to offer a comparable CPU option, I suspect the pricing would be very close to Dell's.

Where things differ, however, is that ZaReason is a Linux company.

To me, buying from a Linux-only vendor seems a better investment. ZaReason doesn't treat its Linux offerings like an "experiment"--they leave that to Dell. As ultrabooks go, the XPS and the UltraLap have pretty close to the same specs. For my money, long-term support is much more important than superficial specs, like the difference between i5 and i7 CPUs in an ultrabook. For this form factor, an i5 with ample RAM is going to deliver plenty of power. If you need something more powerful than that, then maybe what you're really looking for is a full-on desktop replacement.

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Tags: Ubuntu, Dell, laptop, Canonical, ultrabook, XPS

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