Dell knocks Linux off the desktop

The PC maker will stop shipping preinstalled Red Hat Linux on its desktops and notebooks. Dell will continue to offer the OS on workstations and servers.
Written by John G. Spooner, Contributor
Dell Computer has ceased shipping Linux on its desktop and notebook PCs.

Citing slow demand for the operating system on client PCs over the last several quarters, a Dell spokesman said the PC maker chose to stop preinstalling Red Hat Linux on desktop and notebook models.

The move was not unexpected. Dell executives have suggested that the operating system has more potential for workstations and servers. The desktop decision was largely a financial one, influenced by the slow PC market, said Dell spokesman David Graves.

Dell has not bid goodbye to the operating system altogether. The Texas-based PC maker continues to offer workstation and server models with Red Hat preinstalled. The company recently began installing the latest version of Red Hat, version 7.1. In addition, Dell will likely continue to offer Red Hat Linux to larger customers who wish to custom-configure desktop PCs or notebooks with the operating system.

Analysts seemed unsurprised by the move. "Linux has held a very small portion of the market" for desktop PCs, said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC.

But the move is still significant, he said. "It kind of fractures the image of Dell as a Linux player."

Despite an initial splash last year, and efforts by groups such as Gnome to build graphical user interfaces to run on top of Linux, it has been difficult for the operating system to get a foot in the door of the desktop market, said Red Hat spokesperson Melissa London.

"With Linux, the productivity suites just aren't there," London said. As a result, she added, "you're fighting a pretty big uphill battle" to establish the operating system on the desktop.

"Not that we're not trying, but obviously the biggest growth is on the server," she said.

Kusnetzky agreed that a shortage of applications was hurting Linux on the desktop. "If the application is only available in one place, (PC buyers) will select that place," he said.

Other PC makers, such as IBM, continue to offer Linux preloaded on certain models such as the ThinkPad notebooks. However, they report that the majority of business is on the server side.

Dell says it will keep an eye on demand for Linux on the desktop.

"If things change, and there's an upswing in demand on the client side, we're open to going back to it," Graves said. Linux "has been very successful on the server side."

It may be a while, though, before Linux breaks into the desktop market.

"I think that the Linux people are doing something else" besides desktop applications," Kusnetzky said. "There are all kinds of devices that aren't PCs. Linux people seem to really be focusing their attention on embedded, mobile and wireless."

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