Linux is Dell's big chance

Dell's users want Linux, but the company's being cautious. Time for a change of heart
Written by Leader , Contributor on

"What do you want?" Dell asked its users. "Linux on our desks and in our laps, please," they replied. "We hear you," said Dell, "but we don't want to disappoint you, so you can't have it just yet." Sadly, the users are disappointed anyway.

Dell says that it'll certify some desktop and laptop hardware for Novell SuSE Linux, but mostly it wants to wait and see. When the market decides on the best Linux distribution, Dell will commit — in other words, it will hang about until the winner is popular enough to be self-supporting. This is in keeping with the old Dell, the company that has been proud to "leverage the R&D spend of the industry", a lightly-disguised way of saying, "You make it work, and we'll take it when the dust has settled." It is also in keeping with the reactive timidity that has seen the company lose ground that once seemed its by divine right.

Support is Dell's bugbear. It is intent on controlling costs by cutting service to the point of pain. By seeing Linux as a problem requiring extra support, the company is once again thinking in old-fashioned terms. It has another option, one that matches the new reality of low cost hardware, cheap bandwidth and software trends.

Nobody has yet created an OEM-friendly distribution of Linux, designed to minimise support costs by simplifying usage and minimising complexity. The beauty of open source software is that such an operating system can be created almost as fast as it is specified. It can look good, it can work fast, it can be fully interoperable with Microsoft file formats and industry standard data types, and it can ship as a baseline product. With so much functionality now on the web, the idea of the information appliance is back — and this time, it makes sense.

Once upon a time, someone else had the same idea: a radically simple computer that threw away the complexities of the old, used powerful new ideas for simplicty, and just worked. It was called the Mac and it gave users freedom. Those ideals have been lost in the converging world of over-complex, expensive and bloated software. If it would listen to its users, Dell would hear the same desires. It has the opportunity to make the Macintosh for the rest of us — and, more importantly, for itself.

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