As expected, Dell announced today that they would be offering Ubuntu Linux on select consumer desktop and notebook products. In an interview on the Direct2Dell blog, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, talks about the announcement and his vision for Linux adoption on the desktop:
What are Dell and Canonical announcing today?
Mark: We're announcing a joint effort to put Linux more squarely in the consumer space in the US. It will be in initially a subset of the desktops and laptops that Dell sells. This is a response to an extraordinary volume of requests on the Dell IdeaStorm site. It's very exciting to see the free software community expressing itself, and equally exciting to see a very large company listening to that freedom of expression.
How did this relationship between Canonical and Dell come about?
I think both organizations have been eyeballing each other for some time. Ubuntu has grown very rapidly as a desktop platform, and many of our users are running Ubuntu on Dell computers. On the Dell side, I think folks have noticed they were hearing about Ubuntu more and more. Michael Dell picked up on the trend of adoption. So, over the last couple years we've slowly been engaging. With the results of the Dell IdeaStorm there was sufficient critical mass for the idea, effectively, to take another step and turn some of those discussions into a project. The team has been working fast and furiously on that for the last couple months.
What are some trends you see for Linux on desktops and notebooks? What will it take for Linux to become more mainstream?
The patterns of Linux adoption are very different from country to country. Here in the US and western Europe, adoption is driven by corporate use in the data center, and on the other side, by developers who are self-empowered. In emerging markets we see far more willingness to adopt Linux as a general consumer platform. People want something that's resilient to viruses, resilient to spyware, and they also want something that's much more cost effective than the alternatives.
I imagine that what we're going to see over the next couple of years is a convergence where more and more mainstream folks chose Linux as a platform because of its inherent characteristics. We hear stories for example of people putting Linux on second computers because they want it to be a very low maintenance burden - they want it to just work - or setting up computers for family and friends, and waiting those to be resilient to spyware and so on.
I don't think there's going to be a big bang event when the world suddenly shifts from one platform to another. But I think Linux is coming into its own as a viable, reliable desktop platform.
What are the barriers to customers to adopt Linux on the desktop?
Classically things like hardware support, support for the latest peripherals that people might add to the system after they got it up and running. In the server market, we saw as Linux's market share increased, manufacturers were willing to do more of the work themselves. Another concern is the availability and quality of applications. We're starting to see now that in some categories
if you want the latest and greatest browser, Firefox on Linux is a great choice. There's still a lot of work to do but we're already at the point where it's quite usable.
The third barrier is the perception that its difficult to get support. If you call your 2nd cousin who's a computer guy will he know Linux? I hope we're now approaching the point where there is pervasive insight and understanding into Linux as a platform. An initiative like this by Dell is phenomenon import in terms of raising the attention of the whole industry around the platform.
What role do you see for online customer engagements like Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm to affect the industry in the future?
Dell is the perfect company to be launching this initiative. It understands the desire that this market has to own exactly the right machine. This first market segment we're aiming for has very strong opinions about the hw and sw they're looking for. Dell's position to give customers choice and flexibility fits very well with this.
One phenomenon we're seeing across all industries is this idea of real-time connection to customers and users. We see that very clearly in the free software space because our customers are also our developers, our community, and our support network and so on. It's very much a 2-way conversation all the time, both in building the product, and supporting the product, and also defining the next version of the product.
So something like Dell IdeaStorm is interesting, because it introduces that idea to the hardware industry. I think we'll see that meme spread to other industries as well.
Why do you think the Linux community responded so quickly to Dell IdeaStorm?
The first thing I'd say, and it's cautionary, is that this is a historically vocal community. For folks to become early adopters of Linux they needed to be people who were comfortable with expressing a contrarian opinion. They're strong and feisty and vocal. So I'm not surprised that they'd express very strongly a desire to be recognized through IdeaStorm.
We have to peer more deeply into the data and see whether underneath that vocal component is also a commercial component; folks who would genuinely would vote with their wallets to get computers with Linux pre-installed so that they save the time associated with getting it set up and configured the way they want it. Based on the numbers it appears there is that underlying commercial level of demand. What we're about to do is step up to service that demand.