Dude, you're getting Linux!

Responding to intense customer demand, Dell will offer home and office machines with Linux pre-installed, and work with its hardware suppliers to develop, test, and maintain free software drivers.

Since launching the Dell IdeaStorm site in February, the #1 customer request has been for Dell to offer mainstream systems with Linux pre-installed. As I write this, the item has received over 117,000 votes (each registered user apparently getting 10 votes) and over 1,100 comments. Dell has been listening, and on March 13th they launched a Linux survey asking users exactly what they wanted - what distributions, what hardware, and so forth. Now, the survey results are in:

  • More than 70% of survey respondents said they would use a Dell system with a Linux operating system for both home and office use.
  • Survey respondents indicated they want a selection of notebook and desktop offerings.
  • A majority of survey respondents said that existing community-based support forums would meet their technical support needs for a tested and validated Linux operating system on a Dell system (as opposed to first-class Dell technical support).
  • Survey respondents indicated that improved hardware support for Linux is as important as the distribution(s) offered.
"Dell has heard you," reads a company statement, "and we will expand our Linux support." The company will be taking a two-pronged approach:

First, Dell will offer Linux "pre-installed on select desktop and notebook systems." The exact systems and distributions will be determined in a few weeks. Most Dell watchers expect Ubuntu to be chosen as the basis for the distribution.

Second, Dell will work with its hardware partners (those that supply parts such as built-in wireless chips and graphics chips) to "develop, test, and maintain Free drivers, and continue to make progress towards that goal for all drivers." Work at the driver level will "pave the way for more Linux offerings in the future," says Dell, meaning that Linux-savy users will have the freedom to choose distros other than the standard pre-installed one if they want.

People want Linux to "Just Work" right out of the box so it can be a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows for the general public -- no fiddling with drivers, searching for patches, compiling kernels, etc.. Now, for the first time, a major OEM has stepped up to the challenge. HP, Lenovo, and other manufacturers will be watching the move closely. If Linux proves profitable on the desktop, then others will be sure to copy Dell's move.