Michael Dell sings out Linux's praises

PC vendor chairman manages to walk a tightrope -- keeping LinuxWorld conventioneers happy without taking any potshots at good buddy Bill Gates.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dell Computer Corp. Chairman and CEO Michael Dell needed to walk a fine line in his LinuxWorld keynote address here Tuesday -- to praise Linux without dissing Windows.

And despite some fairly obvious skepticism on the part of attendees toward his opening speech, Dell seemed to accomplish his task well.

Dell spoke of his company's growing interest in Linux, especially as the operating system for servers.

Currently, about 10 percent of Dell's (dell) servers are shipping with Linux preloaded, he said. Most of the customers for Dell Linux servers are using them as the server and storage products that power their Internet infrastructures, according to Dell.

"We are spending more R&D dollars on Linux than any other OS, given its size," Dell said.

He also said Dell uses Linux in-house in several areas, including during manufacturing for software-image burn-in on new machines.

Dell claimed the Linux-based manufacturing system is saving the company "several million dollars per year."

The Dell chairman was also bullish on Linux's prospects as a future desktop OS system. He said Linux on the desktop was equivalent, in terms of units, to the market share owned by Mac OS-based systems.

"The open-source model makes far more sense than the proprietary business model," Dell said. "(Yet) we don't see lots of reasons why our proprietary OS competitors -- and one in particular -- is going to support it (Linux)."

Dell was making thinly veiled references to hardware rival Sun Microsystems Inc. (sunw), rather than proprietary OS vendor and long-time Dell partner Microsoft Corp. (msft)

He said Linux's cost, peer-to-peer code review, fluidity of features and free online support are benefits that drive the operating system among its customers.

Dell highlighted a Toyota Linux customer demo, in which Toyota abandoned an attempt to have Microsoft develop a dealer-documentation system in favor of writing its own, based on Linux.

But the chairman studiously avoided bad-mouthing Redmond, Wash., even when asked by an attendee why Dell systems preconfigured with Linux continued to be more expensive than similarly configured Windows machines.

In response to a question of whether users should be rooting for Linux or Windows, Dell responded: "Users should be rooting for systems and applications that provide more value."

"Dell is finally getting over being frightened of Microsoft," said a high-ranking official of a Linux software vendor, who requested anonymity, in commenting on Dell's remarks.

Additional reporting by Sm@rt Partner's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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