It doesn't have quite the same ring as "Give me liberty or give me death," but the phrase occurred to me today after a few emails back and forth with my new Dell rep. As most of you know, Dell has been offering Ubuntu pre-loaded on a number of its consumer systems (including the sweet XPS M1330). Pre-loaded Linux has certain advantages over installing a distribution on a previously Windows-based computer, the most significant of which include guaranteed driver/hardware compatibility, time savings, and cost savings, since buyers don't need to purchase a wasted Windows license.
However, when asked about Dell's intentions to begin offering this as an alternative to their educational customers, my friendly Dell rep had this to say:
To answer your question regarding Ubuntu being offered as a pre-install option on our educational products there are no current plans to offer such an option on in our educational line. You are not alone in the concern for the move to Vista as I have been in contact with other schools that are having similar concerns, but in keeping up with the industry standard that Microsoft has set for the OS change we will be moving towards Vista being our primary and in most cases only option for a preinstalled OS. However, as an alternative we can order the machines with no OS installed and include the licensing for Vista with an XP downgrade or an alternative OS and that you may install yourself.
Yeah. Well, if Microsoft has set Vista as the industry standard, then I guess that's OK.
Obviously, I could order Dells with no OS, as she points out (at a discount equal to the software licensing), and install Ubuntu (or whatever) myself. But if I'm doing that, there is hardly a reason to not just buy whiteboxes and whitebooks. If time, cost, effort, and support are concerns (as they are for most of us who wear too many hats and do too much work for too little money already), then a pre-installed OS makes a lot of sense. I'm just not at all sure that I want that pre-installed OS to be Windows Vista.
For that matter, neither are my users. I'm not sure that they would be much happier about Linux (at least in principle before they had a chance to use the OS), but I'll be snookered if I'm buying an XP downgrade license and then installing that myself.
Why does it have to be Vista or nothing with these OEMs? What is Microsoft really going to do if Dell starts selling Ubuntu laptops to educational customers who request it? Stop selling Windows through Dell? I don't think so. If Vista were brilliant and trouble-free, this might be a different story, but it's time that enterprises, including educational institutions, started demanding better alternatives than XP downgrades.