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When you take a few steps back from the furor and zealotry and take a close look at whats happened here, you will quickly start to see the cracks. One problem is that Dell appears to be under the misguided impression that listening to the IdeaStorm community is the same as listening to customers. Its not. Anyone can register and become an instant member of the IdeaStorm community. What Dell listened to wasnt a cross-section of customers, but rather a pressure group.
There are a series of other pressure groups in operation on IdeaStorm right now, people who are putting their own agendas on the table and expecting Dell to carry them out. Now that Dell gave in to the request to have a Linux distro and responded by picking Ubuntu, the focus has shifted to having OpenOffice or Firefox preinstalled, or to having a greater range of Linux distros. Dells going to have to draw a line under some of these requests and reject them, which is going to be unpopular and Dell will have to suffer the consequences.
But its not just IdeaStorm thats flawed; how Dell has implemented and rolled out Linux is also flawed.
Now that Dell is shipping PCs loaded with Ubuntu, there will be some who will expect Dell to support a whole raft of distros. Given the likely cost to Dell of testing systems, and especially given that Dell has admitted that desktop Linux will account for less that 1% of PCs shipped over the next 12 months, this is unlikely to happen. The open source community needs to keep one thing in mind Dells focus is not on building bridges with open source communities or promoting Linux over Windows. Dells focus is selling PCs and making a profit. Its not about charity; its about the bottom line.
There are other flaws in the way that the deal was implemented. The limited range of PCs that are offered with an Ubuntu install is a problem. Theres one notebook model (the Inspiron E1505n), one budget desktop model (the Dimension E520n) and one from the high-end XPS system (although its a low-end 410n). The base price for the E520n and E1505n notebook is $599 while the base price for the XPS 410n is $849. When you compare the prices to comparable systems running Windows Vista Home Premium, the difference in price is $50. But dig a little deeper and that $50 doesnt seem like much at all, considering what you get. When it comes to software support for the Ubuntu systems, users have the choice of serve yourself support at the Dell Community Forum or paying Canonical for a support package. No free telephone support from Dell for Linux.
My guess is that from Dells perspective, this is partly an experiment and partly a way to please the masses over on IdeaStorm. Dells decision not to allow Linux to openly compete with Windows is an indication that the company doesnt want to sour any relationships with Microsoft (and lets face it, if Microsoft were to add an extra $5 or $10 to the price of a Vista Home Premium license, it would have a severe impact on Dells profitability). If, over the next five years Dell discovers that there is in fact a market for Linux, they can take it from there, if not, they can shelve the idea and say that they tried.
This is also a safe route for Ubuntu and Canonical. By selling Dell rigs to existing people already in the Linux loop, Canonical doesnt risk having to face angry users and explain why Ubuntu wont run their favorite Windows applications.