After a few unsuccessful attempts to censor the news, the big word is finally out: Dell will sell some desktop and laptop models with Ubuntu Feisty 7.04 pre-installed:
At the end of May, the No. 2 PC maker will begin selling some consumer-focused laptop and desktop models with Ubuntu's new “Feisty Fawn” version of Linux installed, Dell spokesman Kent Cook said. The company announced the Linux move on Tuesday on its IdeaStorm site, launched in February to gather feedback directly from customers about what they want.
Dell also announced that it has improved its Linux forum and has given it prominent placement on its Dell Forums.
Web page.When buying the Dell systems, customers will have the option to purchase support from Ubuntu backer Canonical, said Jane Silber, [Canonical's] director of operations.
So, Dell has chosen the business model of community support, with optional paid support provided by Canonical. In my opinion a smart move because it would have been very hard for Dell to quickly and adequately offer Linux support through their phone helpdesk.
Dell hasn't stated yet exactly on which models it will provide pre-installed Ubuntu, but Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has a nice analysis of the different options and most likely models. One thing sticks out from that list: as bigg on the LXer forum has noticed, they all have Nvidia cards and Broadcom 1390 wireless cards. The Nvidia cards will only work properly (in 3D) with the binary drivers and the 1390 wireless is problematic too, only working properly with ndiswrapper and Windows drivers.
I think it's safe to assume that Dell won't be shipping the Linux computers with such important hardware unconfigured, assuming Dell is serious about Linux and not just using this as leverage against Microsoft. And since I don't expect open source Nvidia and Broadcom drivers to appear in the next month, there are just two possibilities:
- In the next month, the hardware configuration of some Dell models will change to hardware supported by open source drivers, such as integrated Intel graphics and wifi.
- Dell will ship Ubuntu preconfigured with closed source drivers.
I don't see either option happening actually. Changing the hardware configuration is very hard and expensive for Dell, and shipping closed source drivers preconfigured is certain to draw comments from the open source community. So, is it going to be no 3D and no wireless after all? That's not good for Linux! Many people's first Linux experience is going to be tainted by mucking around to get those working. Expect a large list of “Linux is not ready for the desktop” comments from people who only spent a couple of hours with one of these Dell machines.
When Dell opened it's Linux survey about people's preferred distributions, an oft heard comment was that the distribution did not matter, as long as the hardware was properly supported with free drivers. Too bad that Dell has not taken this advice to heart. They certainly have the capabilities to do so. I have a Dell D520 laptop for work and it works perfectly with Debian/etch, no binary drivers required.
So, with difficult to configure hardware it's not going to be the best thing for Linux in general, not as good as it could have been anyway. But it's certainly going to be good for Canonical. They can expect a large number of people to sign up for paid support, especially because of the hardware difficulties I described above (and if the cost of that support is less than the cost of Windows Vista pre-installed). It's also going to be a big publicity splash for them and their Ubuntu project. Then again, there have been multiple comments pointing out that Mark Shuttleworth's goal is not spreading Linux, but just Canonical/Ubuntu.
I don't think it's all that bad but it's a bit sad that this was not executed better. If Dell and Canonical really wanted to push the envelope then Dell would have designed new hardware especially for Ubuntu, creating a Linux line if you will. Perhaps even creating separate Linux division, free to work with the community. Now we will just have to wait if they manage to launch this idea, or if it's going to flop like it did in 2001, setting back the Linux Desktop by a few years. It's still a full month away. Let's hope they surprise us.