What Dell customers want - Linux, no craplets, more RAM, no offshored tech support

What Dell customers want - Linux, no craplets, more RAM, no offshored tech support

Summary: Can Dell's Ideastorm help them bacK on track? Have they finally learned that the key to success is listening to customers?


Last week Dell launched a new site called Dell Ideastorm.  The idea behind Ideastorm is to leverage the "Web 2.0" wave to get feedback from web users on what they want to see from Dell.  Some of the ideas are pretty obvious and Dell could have found out what people wanted by doing a quick web search, but some of the other ideas are interesting and show how the PC industry is changing and how Dell's business model is lagging behind what their customers want.

There's a lot of excitement surrounding Dell's Ideastorm but the truth is that talk is cheapThe top "idea" is to have the option to have Linux pre-installed (Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE) on Dell machines (or offer CDs containing the distros of Linux to customers) and to set up the system so that it'll multi-boot with XP or Vista.  This idea has been "promoted" (if you're into Digg this is similar to "Digging" an article) over 31,000 times.

The second most popular "idea" is to have a OpenOffice pre-installed on Dell PCs instead of or alongside Microsoft Office/Works.  This has been promoted 16,000 times.

[poll id=87]

At third place we have the "idea" that there should be an option to get a PC without any extra software installed on it, just the OS (in this case the person submitting the idea wanted Vista).  This has had nearly 14,500 promotes.  A similar idea is also at fifth place, this one getting 8,500 promotes.

At fourth place is what I think is the most interesting idea - a Dell Linux laptop.  The person submitting this idea went into some detail:

Sell a laptop with linux in which everything works.
1. Select a distro.
2. Work with the packager of the distro to make sure that you've selected components for the laptop that have all the necessary drivers.
3.. Develop a tight working relationship with the packager of the distro so that they have some sense that you're in it for the long haul.
4. Provide a service contract through the packager of the distro for support on the software.
5. Work with the packager of the distro to keep the distro/laptop functional, so that stupid kernel updates don't break the system.
6. Make it idiot proof like a Mac.

Other notable ideas are that 1GB of RAM should be the minimum offered (which, given the price of RAM makes a lot of sense) and that Dell should end their offshore tech support

So, what do Dell customers really want?  Choice.  You know, when you boil Dell's Ideastorm down to that, I'm pretty sure that if they'd asked that question to anyone here reading ZDNet blogs, they'd have got the answer and could have saved all that time and effort and got on giving people what they want.  But I think that that's the catch.  Ideastorm alone makes Dell look like it's listening to customers and doing something without actually having to change a single thing.  Most of these ideas for improvement have been what customers have been asking for (and sometimes screaming for) for years, but Dell's not been listening. 

Choice is a great thing, but choice also comes at a price.  Dell's business model revolves around offering the customer a limited number of choices when it comes to buying a PC.  More options (such as Linux or no craplets) adds steps to the PC's setup process, steps which cost money.

There's also a question of support.  Cut the argument whichever way you want, it's easier to support Microsoft products that it is to support Linux or OpenOffice.  While I'm pretty sure that there's a market for a PC running free, open source software (although I'm not sure how big), I'm also pretty sure that customers will still want support.  Releasing Linux on the world through a major OEM like Dell might seem Utopian, but it’s risky.  How's Dell going to adequately explain to users the difference between Windows and Linux?  What warnings will it issue about software and hardware compatibility?  How will they handle the "this Linux thing doesn't look anything like Windows?" question?  Remember that people buying based on price might not be making informed choices or understand what an Operating System is.

Maybe a better way to introduce choice and open source software is to offer PCs with no OS installed which would allow users to install their own favorite distro (after all, if you can't install Linux yourself, my guess is that you're not ready for it anyway) and Windows-based PCs with Firefox installed (that's another post).

As for non-offshored tech support, that would be another move that's going to cost Dell money and another one of those "if you want it, it'll hit you where you sit" ideas. 

There's a lot of excitement surrounding Dell's Ideastorm but the truth is that talk is cheap.  Asking people what they want and giving it to them are two very different things.  While initiating a discussion is a good start, I've watched Dell over-commit and under-deliver so many times in the past that I'm not ready to hold my breath just yet.

Thoughts?  Which ideas might help boost Dell's bottom line?  Which would make you buy from Dell?

Topic: Dell

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  • Not to take anything away from Dell

    But you have to consider their audience. Most of the people that would be responding (and digging) would be some sort of a tech geek. Most of the Dell customers do not know what Linux is, or would want it on their machines. So the effort is worthwhile to get the opinion of Dell's techie customers, but regular user? As long as they do not put all their muscle behind those ideas and run with them as the holy grail.
    • But, it is telling that the techie types are willing to take the time to

      express their opinion. This, to me tells me that Dell might have new customers by supporting Linux.

      But, because of the communication problems, Dell should have a completely different website, with no links from the primary site that could confuse the normal customers for now. It should even be a separate business unit, with everybody dedicated to making Linux work.

      Of course, MS would do everything, legal or otherwise to punish Dell if they were to do it. MS can afford the fines and lawsuits. They must deny a critical mass.
      • Maybe ...

        "This, to me tells me that Dell might have new customers by supporting Linux."

        maybe a Linux range?
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • Dell might actually gain a couple of percent of market share by selling

          Linux Boxes, with all of the heavy lifting already done. That could grow to 5% over time, and hard to ignore.
      • Dell always has another option

        [i]Of course, MS would do everything, legal or otherwise to punish Dell if they were to do it.[/i]

        Dell could go license OSX. Oh, no, they can't. Emperor Jobs states that the Intel Core 2 Duos that Apple buys are better than the Core 2 Duos that Dell buys off the same assembly line and OSX will only work with Apple's Intel's Core 2 Duos. Honest!
        • Was wondering when

          Zealot would chime in. Here's an article about Dell and Linux. Just give it a rest, pal.
    • Humbug!!

      Not buying this "most users don't know what Linux is" argument. My sister taught at an elementary school where they had Linux boxes. She learned to use it there, had no problems, and liked it. Many more users know about Linux than the Windows crowd and OEMs would like you to believe.
      • Maybe ...

        Perhaps. But it's still a minority - plenty of folks out there don't know what version of Windows they are running.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • "The computer"

          [i]But it's still a minority - plenty of folks out there don't know what version of Windows they are running.[/i]

          According to at least one survey, [b]most[/b] people don't distinguish the system software from "the computer." It's just a toaster.

          One interesting consequence is that a significant number of people react to infestation by malware, etc. by simply buying a new computer. They just figure that computers, like other appliances, have a finite service life, after which you replace them.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Good point ...

      Dell needs to raise awareness of this site and attract more than just the geeks. Some of the best ideas will come from regular users ...

      However, I can give then a free tip now - take a trip to Google and type "Dell sucks" - plenty of ideas there.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Obviously, if I could get Ubuntu pre-installed on a laptop with everything

    working correctly, including all codecs, video driver, wireless driver, etc, I would support Dell, even if it was more expensive. It is always a pain buying a laptop and not being sure that there will be drivers for everything, though with Centrino, everything works very well!!

    But, if Dell will not support Linux, I will just buy a good brand at BestBuy or Circuit City, wipe the hard drive, and install Linux. Why piss around with Dell????
    • Good point

      People would be willing to have the legwork done for them. There is a market there and it would be interesting to see how big it is.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Linux Laptop

        I would buy a Dell laptop today if they offered one or two models with Linux installed. Make sure everything works. Give me an option of desktops (I prefer KDE). Also offer printers, scanners, multifunction devices and music devices that work with Linux. If Dell is concerned about supporting Linux then make a deal with Canonical (Ubuntu) or Novell (SLED 10) for support.

        BTW, they could offer StarOffice on their Windows computers, for which Sun provides support. I'm sure licensing StarOffice from Sun in the numbers that Dell sells would be very inexpensive, so even if Dell offered it for $30 or $40 extra it would still be a better value than MS Works.

        Is Dell listening? Probably not. More likely it's so they can publicize that they are listening to consumers, but it's all a sham.
        • Don't forget that Click N Run will be available for Ubuntu, which is also

          now going to be the base for Linspire.

          How about Dell offering Ubuntu, Kbuntu, XUbuntu, Linspire, and Mepis as options. All based on Ubuntu!!! That would not be too hard, and all packages would be compatible.

          But, the point is that Dell, by pre-installing and helping with Click N Run, would get a share of the revenues when users purchase commercial software. One more revenue stream.
  • Consumers Don't want Dell

    If anything, consumers would be better served if Dell closed up shop and gave the money to the shareholders.

    I am involved a project to determine our vendor for Desktops and Laptops. Out of Dell, HP, Sony, and Lenovo, the Dell rep was like the Used car salesman and the product quality was nonexistant. In their presentation, they were the ONLY VENDOR that did not speak to product quality. That alone speaks volumes about the lack of vision and product quality.

    Mikey Boi can't right this sinking ship. And Dell won't be missed by anyone.
    • You're right ...

      Dell hardly speaks of quality any more ... and that's worrying.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Used car salesmen are everywhere

      I've done this exercise probably a dozen times over the past 4 years, and you shouldn't judge the company by its salesmen. I've dealt with used car salesmen selling $2M Cisco solution. In the end, don't rely on what salesmen tell you, as you would be in trouble regardless of how sweet their pitch sounds.
      • Solid advice

        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Faux arguments....

    You cite several examples of the costs involved and the readiness of users for Linux. Faux arguments, all. You think there are no costs to Windows? You think that most users can install Windows? I've been in this industry a couple decades now, and *I* have trouble with Windows installs. That doesn't mean people aren't "ready" to use it. Nor would the same hold true for Linux. Experts install and configure, users use. All your cons center around the costs to Dell for doing that item. Maybe Dell's biz model isn't/wasn't so great after all? Maybe the notion of doing their own R&D and having that cost structure should have been built in a bit more from the get go? Instead of just commoditizing based on work done by suppliers. Cuz now they're finding that they don't have this structure and cost basis built into their model which they need to give the customer what it's asking for? I just don't know about that...seems to me that customers are savvy enough to know what they want, and a major OEM should not be having this much trouble meeting those needs. Especially given the "freeness" (as in beer) of Linux vs. royalties for Windows. There's something else at play here. For your part, you'd do well to cut through the usual "fat" of sloppy excuses and expose what's really at work. Thanks for your time.
    • Market forces ...

      I want to pick up on this quote you made:

      "For your part, you'd do well to cut through the usual "fat" of sloppy excuses and expose what's really at work."

      By this I'm assuming that you think that there's more to the reason why Dell (and other OEMs) don't offer Linux. Maybe a Microsoft pressure?

      Maybe ... but I believe in market forces. If there's a demand and it's big enough, the big OEMs will support it because it'll be a money maker. They're not going to lose money over it and they're not going to support Linux as though it's a charitable cause. It's the $$$ that count. Windows is an easy option - hardware vendors support it, Microsoft is there for tech support and the process is streamlined and tied up with handshakes and contracts. Heading off into open source waters would be a very different feeling for the OEMs, one that would make them nervous.

      But things are changing. There's a demand there. Depends on how big it is, on whether Dell's willing to take a gamble and on whether all those that said they'd buy a Linux/Dell will put their money where their mouths are.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes