Dell's Desktop Linux Strategy: So Far, So Good

| About: Dell Inc. (DELL)
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So far, so good. That statement sums up Dell's (DELL) current desktop Linux strategy, which focuses heavily on the Ubuntu operating system from Canonical. Dell insiders tell me customer reaction to the company's Ubuntu PCs, introduced in June, has been good. Even so, Dell representatives are careful not to hype the machines. Here's why.

"You've got to crawl before you can walk and run," says John Hull, a Linux OS development manager at Dell. "We're still at the crawling stage with consumer [Linux] systems." As a result, speculation about Dell preparing an Ubuntu marketing campaign appears premature.

Hull is quick to note that Dell focuses on multiple desktop Linux distributions. While Dell introduced its first Ubuntu PCs this past summer, the company also offers Red Hat Linux on workstations and recently announced plans to offer Novell's SuSE Linux on PCs in China.

But in the US, most of the recent desktop Linux buzz has focused around Ubuntu. Overall, the user reaction to Dell's Ubuntu PCs and notebooks "has been good," says Hull. "There obviously are some bugs and it is rough around the edges" when it comes to some drivers and selected application issues. In fact, Hull sounds like he largely agrees with Walt Mossberg's recent analysis of Ubuntu for The Wall Street Journal, in which Mossberg credited Ubuntu for its recent advancements but concluded the operating system wasn't ready for broad consumer adoption.

Looking ahead, Dell is testing Gutsy Gibbon -- a major Ubuntu upgrade slated for delivery in October. "We have weekly calls with Canonical," says Hull. "We're actively involved in testing the Tribe release and we're looking at hardware support and the overall customer experience." Tribe is the term Canonical uses for alpha (pre-beta) software code.

For now, Dell's interest in Ubuntu appears focused on PCs and notebooks. The company does not appear to have an interest in the Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded release, which Canonical and Intel are developing. "I've heard of it but haven't looked at it," says Hull.

The bottom line: Give Dell credit. The company is taking baby steps in the consumer Linux desktop market with Ubuntu before most of its major US rivals. And Dell embraced Ubuntu the very same year Microsoft shipped Windows Vista. Michael Dell is making a strong statement that Dell wants to support customer choice. Even though Dell isn't quite ready to market the heck out of the Ubuntu PCs, the company's decision to support Ubuntu is a win for shareholders, consumers and the PC industry as a whole.

Disclosure: Author has a long position in DELL