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Linux Business Businesses

Helping Dell To Help Open Source 177

Posted by kdawson
from the skunkworks dept.
Glyn Moody writes "Dell's IdeaStorm is turning into a fiasco — for Dell, and for open source as well. Instead of just shouting at the company to sell pre-installed GNU/Linux systems, how about helping them find a way to do it? Here's a suggestion that I've posted on the IdeaStorm site: that Dell set up an independent business unit for GNU/Linux systems, just like The Innovator's Dilemma tells us to do when faced with a disruptive technology."
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Helping Dell To Help Open Source

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  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @05:41PM (#18255238) Homepage Journal
    The Linux community wants Dell to just start selling PCs with Linux preinstalled. Doesn't matter to the community if they can't find a distro that has support for all their hardware. Doesn't doesn't matter if Dell can't offer any support yet. Just put a bunch of distro choices in the "Operating System" box.

    Dell, of course, doesn't want to start selling PCs with Linux preinstalled until they have found a suitable hardware configuration.. cut a deal with someone to outsource the support to.. etc, etc. As such, this means the Linux community has to wait and every day Dell doesn't just start selling the damn PCs is another day of flaming they will get.
  • by spirit of reason (989882) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @05:42PM (#18255256)
    It doesn't have to be Dell, but having the support of perhaps the largest consumer PC vendor is a plus.
  • by garcia (6573) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @05:48PM (#18255324) Homepage
    Why does it have to be Dell?

    Because, "Dude, you've got a Dell!"

    The simple fact of the matter is that EfficientPC is some no-name company that no one trusts. For whatever reason, at least here in the US, Dell is seen as a good name brand computer. People won't put faith in something delivered by a company that insists on a horrible color scheme and poor web design.

    Dell is a big name in the PC business and by having them push out pre-installed Linux machines it shows the rest of the industry (aside from the ever so unsightly EfficientPCs) that it should also hop on the bandwagon. I just wish the Linux userbase wasn't such a bunch of self-absorbed fuckers when it comes to accepting new people or companies.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @05:50PM (#18255330)

    Clearly, there is a huge pent-up demand for pre-installed GNU/Linux systems from Dell.


    Ummmm... no. That isn't clear at all. A few fan-boys does not sufficient demand make.

    Don't get me wrong, I run Linux myself. I just don't think that there are enough people who care one way or the other to make it worth Dell's time.

    Reality is hard and grainy. Sorry.
  • Support for new hardware in the Linux kernel is much faster than it used to be. Surely dell's lowend (read older) systems should work. Perhaps this might even encourage dell not to use substandard versions of common hardware. They won't have to add support for hardware if it has a normal PCI ID. I have a feeling the linux community would be even willing to help write drivers for their hardware.

    Tech support is another story. Dell is trying to move everything to india and I don't think there are enough Linux fans in india to staff their helpdesk. I just can't imagine the typical workflow steps are going to work with a linux box right now.

    The linux community needs PC vendors to ship systems. Why not focus on the second, third and forth vendors? For instance, say HP, Gateway and Lenovo are the next three vendors and they all ship boxes. Linux users will buy from them and dell's marketshare might drop forcing them to adopt linux. Of course I'm assuming there is a demand. In reality, we just need one vendor to adopt open source that is rather large. If they start moving machines, the other companies will hop on board.
  • by nmos (25822) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @05:55PM (#18255402)
    My understanding of the situation so far is basically as follows:

    Some people posted on Ideastorm that they'd like Dell to offer Linux pre-installed. Dell responded that they wern't quite ready to go that far yet but they would work toward making sure their hardware was Linux compatable so people could buy Dell with some confidence that it will work with their whatever flavor of Linux they want.

    What exactly is wrong with that?
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:07PM (#18255522)

    The simple fact of the matter is that EfficientPC is some no-name company that no one trusts. For whatever reason, at least here in the US, Dell is seen as a good name brand computer. People won't put faith in something delivered by a company that insists on a horrible color scheme and poor web design.
    Just happened to be the 1st one that appeared in Google. There are loads of companies selling Linux based systems.

    more:
    http://lxer.com/module/forums/t/23168/ [lxer.com]
    http://www.linux.org/vendor/system/index.html [linux.org]

    Dell is a big name in the PC business and by having them push out pre-installed Linux machines it shows the rest of the industry (aside from the ever so unsightly EfficientPCs) that it should also hop on the bandwagon. I just wish the Linux userbase wasn't such a bunch of self-absorbed fuckers when it comes to accepting new people or companies.
    Said the guy who's so concerned by name and brand.

    The irony is that you have it backwards, it's the small companies who fill the niches, take away business from the large ones because they provide services that people are willing to pay for, they grow into medium sized companies. The large incumbents follow suit, 5 years later, because they eventually see that the market has moved.

    You don't persuade a business to do something by begging them to sell you something. You persuade them by buying that something from someone else who is quite happy to sell you that something. There are dozens ... hundreds of companies who'd love to sell you a pre-installed, pre-configured Linux system, very competitively priced. Who else do you think "the industry" is?
     
  • by garcia (6573) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:10PM (#18255554) Homepage
    I'm not concerned with brand-name anything. Businesses are.

    The irony is that you have it backwards, it's the small companies who fill the niches, take away business from the large ones because they provide services that people are willing to pay for, they grow into medium sized companies.

    Uhh, you're missing the entire point. Dell is well known and businesses trust them. If they start pushing out pre-installed Linux, others will trust them as well based on name recognition alone.
  • by Quantam (870027) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:13PM (#18255584) Homepage
    Support for new hardware in the Linux kernel is much faster than it used to be. Surely dell's lowend (read older) systems should work. Perhaps this might even encourage dell not to use substandard versions of common hardware. They won't have to add support for hardware if it has a normal PCI ID. I have a feeling the linux community would be even willing to help write drivers for their hardware. Tech support is another story. Dell is trying to move everything to india and I don't think there are enough Linux fans in india to staff their helpdesk. I just can't imagine the typical workflow steps are going to work with a linux box right now.

    Now that was a useful post. It points out two important things the Linux community can do to help Dell get this project off the ground as quickly as possible:
    1. Help with writing drivers for any Dell hardware that's too obscure to already have Linux drivers.
    2. Help with generating a single comprehensive online knowledge base that outsourced tech support people could use when helping users with Linux problems.
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slamb (119285) * on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:14PM (#18255592) Homepage

    I have heard people say they want this for hardware compatibility reasons. Like if Linux came on a Dell, then all the hardware would be compatible. It seems to me though, the solution is not for Dell to use parts that Linux supports, but for Linux to support the parts that Dell is using (to any reasonable extend).

    Dell can use their volume as negotiating power with hardware vendors. If the Linux people say "hey, we own your hardware like everyone else who bought a Dell, and we'd like to support it", the hardware vendors don't really care. They already have the money, and they say "there aren't that many Linux people anyway". If Dell says "we'll ship your hardware in millions of machines...but only if you help these Linux guys out," it's a different story.

    The same effect seems to be working well for the OLPC project. Hardware vendors apparently become much more flexible when you tell them a purchase of millions of machines is on the line.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:17PM (#18255622) Homepage

    Well, the fact is that there are lots of suitable hardware configurations-- being such a large OEM, the Linux community actively seeks to support Dell machines already. Most Dells you buy will run Linux, so Dell would just have to check hardware support and make sure they aren't offering Linux with hardware that doesn't offer Linux support. That shouldn't take too long.

    Support seems like a bigger problem. Sure, they could sell the machines without supporting them, but what's the sense in that? If you are willing to buy a Linux machine without any support, then surely you can buy a machine without an OS and install Linux yourself.

    Personally, if I were Dell, I'd be looking into making their own Dell-Linux distribution. Sure, it would probably be Debian-based with a little rebranding, but the point is that they could have the software under their own control. They'd be able to optimize it for their own hardware and drop support for whatever they don't want to support, or whatever.

  • The Easiest Way (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dokebi (624663) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:20PM (#18255658)
    The easiest way to promote open source software would be for Dell to install OpenOffice on all their systems. This would cost them very little--no new OS to certify, no hardware to test, plus it wouldn't eat into their "crapware subsidy".

    But, this will greatly increase the market share of OO.o, and home users and small businesses would reap real benefits from using a real office suite, rather than MS-Works.

    Perhaps other PC makers will follow, to "compete" with Dell on this "Free Office Suite," and _they_ might install it on their systems.

    I started using open source software from Mozilla Browser and OpenOffice on Windows. I was able to switch to Linux not only because I have tried to wean myself off of MS formats, but because I invested myself into platform neutrality. Having OpenOffice installed by default would do more than anything to promote this kind of independence, even if the user never actually ends up using Linux. I think this helps the open source movement even more than having a linux-OS option, because once people invest with their data, it is hard to go back to some other closed format.
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haeleth (414428) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:21PM (#18255684) Journal

    I have heard people say they want this for hardware compatibility reasons. Like if Linux came on a Dell, then all the hardware would be compatible. It seems to me though, the solution is not for Dell to use parts that Linux supports, but for Linux to support the parts that Dell is using (to any reasonable extend).
    It already does. But you know full well that isn't the problem, because in your very next paragraph you go on to complain:

    For most things, something like Ubuntu works fine, but your average person isn't going to know what to do if their wireless card isn't working, or if they don't have support for MP3s, etc. Editing a bunch of configuration files and such is not an option. They want to click a few things and have everything work.
    Or have everything preinstalled, at which point it will just work without them having to click anything! That is the whole point of wanting preinstalled Linux: Dell could trivially arrange for the wireless card to be set up already; Dell could trivially arrange for MP3 and DVD playback to work out of the box (by the simple expedient of paying the license fees required to make it legal).

    If the big problem facing Linux today is that it's too damn hard to get it working, then is it not blatantly obvious that the solution is to sell computers that are already properly configured?
  • by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:27PM (#18255766) Homepage
    Look at it from the typical corporate PHB mutual admiration/derision society perspective.

    Firmware Engineering: Oh no! I've got HOW MANY new drivers to port? I need more money, more head count!

    Q/A: Oh no! What's my schedule to test these new drivers? I need more money, more head count!

    Product Management: Ugh! I have to SKU up these new products? Graphics design is going to have to give me new blah/blah/blah. What about all of our OEM software partners? They aren't linux compatible. We need new product managers that are Linux geniuses.

    Software Dev: Wait none of our apps are Linux compatible. Need more head count. Need to hire linux experts to do this.

    Marketing: We need to buy lots of market research! We need to hire linux market experts! We're doing so much already!

    Manufacturing: You want what? You've got the wrong guy in your office. The server assembly manager is the guy you need to speak with. He does expensive-but-kind-of-free-Red-Hat, not me. Wait, you want Optiplex's and Dimensions to have Linux? It can't be done. I'm not set up for it. I need more people and more money to expand operations to accommodate your new-fangled production ideas.

    Support: Our Indian support center doesn't have the scripts needed to support, wait you said MANY versions of Linux? No. No way. Too complicated.

    Legal: We need to enter into a contract with these Linux people. Wait, many linux people? I thought there was only one Linux. Need more head count to manage these new contracts. We need to research if this conflicts with any agreements we already have. Need to hire legal consultants that are experts in Linux. Hmmm plus all this "free" software written for hippies hasn't been vetted by the courts.

    Purchasing: Where do we buy this Linux from?

    Sales: All right! Linux on Dell! Let's do it! Who's with me?!?

    What you are asking for (lower priced, OS-free hardware they will support) they will not give you. Besides, you will force distro's into a winner/loser software monoculture of it's own making that is best avoided at all costs. This is where the little guy thrives. Hmm, let's see http://www.sub300.com/port.htm [sub300.com] or maybe www.linspire.com, or http://system76.com/ [system76.com]?
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:40PM (#18255904)
    Because the Linux community has this fixed (and unsupported) idea that Joe Sixpack is pounding on the door of Best Buy and Circuit City begging, begging, to buy a Linux PC.

    Or maybe....
    The Windows community is delusional when they think that people aren't fed up with the virus, spyware, and general flakyness with thier Windows based PCs and are willing to try something different.

  • Re:The Easiest Way (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp AT freeshell DOT org> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:54PM (#18256088) Homepage Journal
    it wouldn't eat into their "crapware subsidy"

    Actually it would. Microsoft Office Crapware Edition comes loaded on most of prebuilt computers. It's a trial use version of Office.

    I bet Microsoft is doing something for them for the privilege of putting that thing on there. I bet that Microsoft wouldn't be willing to do whatever that is if something better than Office Crapware was also installed.
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spitzak (4019) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:58PM (#18256132) Homepage
    You act as though there is no good reason to have Linux pre-installed. And then in the very next paragraph you say:

    your average person isn't going to know what to do if their wireless card isn't working, or if they don't have support for MP3s, etc

    Now are you deliberately being dense?

    I thought I'd leave it at that, but just in case you cannot see what should be blatently obvious: the reason for pre-installed Linux is to solve the exact same problem you quoted.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @07:10PM (#18256308)
    "Dell responded that they wern't quite ready to go that far yet but they would work toward making sure their hardware was Linux compatable so people could buy Dell with some confidence that it will work with their whatever flavor of Linux they want.

    What exactly is wrong with that?"

    You would presumably still have to pay the f***ing Windows tax, like it or not.

    Mod me insightful (or maybe obvious??)
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by el americano (799629) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @07:13PM (#18256328) Homepage
    "Why do we want Linux on Dells again?"

    To make Linux available to people who won't intall an OS. To increase the number of people using Linux. To improve hardware support. To break the Windows monopoly.

    "...your average person isn't going to know what to do if their wireless card isn't working, or if they don't have support for MP3s"

    This is the point of pre-installing. The wireless card is selected to work. MP3s and DVDs will play if the licensing is handled by Dell and built into the price of the PC. Just offering Linux compatible hardware is not enough. I wouldn't buy Dell for that, and most businesses wouldn't buy Linux Destop machines either.

    "Editing a bunch of configuration files..."

    Config files?! I'm not using config files for my e-mail, browser, office apps, multimedia, desktop environment, etc. For someone who tried Linux recently, you certainly have antiquated ideas of its current state.

  • by DaMattster (977781) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @07:22PM (#18256458)
    I think this is one of the best ideas that I have heard to answer the problem of too many distributions. However, Dell would then need to employ a team of Linux OS developers and the cost would ultimately be passed on to the consumer. That said, this extra cost may only surface for a short time until sufficient product revenue happens. And, you kill the problem of compatibility. I think the reason Dell did not act sooner on open source was fear of the support behemouth that would be required. Michael Dell was quoted as saying he loved, "The web footed wonder." Once again, it was business economics that was the decision maker.
  • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @07:58PM (#18256864)
    Fuck dell, HP, or any of the other big PC mfgs...if you want a computer w/Linux pre-installed, there are other (better) companies out there that will happily meet this demand. System76 comes to mind (http://www.system76.com). Let's support the little guy who has the experience in doing this, as opposed to the big guys who will half-ass it all the way.
  • by DogDude (805747) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:44PM (#18258090) Homepage
    While factually correct I don't think either of these moves by Dell was anything approaching altruistic, let alone an honest effort to promote software written outside of Redmond. Did you ever try to navigate from Dell.com to one of these machines? Nigh on impossible.

    Dell.com > type "linux workstations" in the search box. If that's "nigh on impossible", then you need a brain transplant, buddy.

    Also, once you do find one, did you also notice that the price was *higher* than if you had ordered the exact same machine with Windows? What is the motivation here for the customer?

    "Motivation for the customer"? Are you serious? Let me make it simple for you... There's a total cost for configuring and testing an OS with each of their boxes. Divide that cost by the number of units you expect to sell, multiply it by some profit number, and that's the price.

    Also, as I recall, the only Linux distro ever offered by Dell was Redhat Enterprise, which is a very expensive distribution and it was only offered on their business line machines.

    Business people pay more and require less support than individuals. They can make a larger profit selling business machines, when compared to what tiny profit they *might* make from consumer versions.

    Why not use something like CentOS (if it must be RH based) and pass the savings on to the customer? Or, better yet, use a totally free distribution and pass the savings on.

    They can't use just any half-assed version... unless they want their reputation to go the way of Packard-Bell, they have to use the most professionally supported and developed OS available. A multibillion dollar company can't afford to rely on some volunteer group of people that use a donated web server. Are you crazy?

    Dell's "attempts" at selling no-OS/Free-OS machines was half-hearted at best; more than likely a public relations move to appease a certain software company concerned with anti-trust issues.

    No, if it wasn't an attempt to sell more boxes, then at the least it was an attempt to shut up some of the loudest, most annoying Linux zealots. Dell selling other OS's wouldn't have anything to do with trust issues.

    Your lack of any fundamental understanding of basic business principles is exceeded only by your the "badness" of your writing. "Nigh"? "Night"? Who do you think you are, Shakespeare?
  • Re:Why Again? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oztiks (921504) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:16PM (#18258290)
    I think its funny how this whole game is played.

    Why after all this time has Dell decided to even look at Linux this way? They don't care what geek customers want, they only care about sales and profit, Vista does the job they need it too and they get paid well to sell it, its not as if Dell is getting hammered by its shareholders to come up with solutions other then Windows because sales are at an all time low.

    It comes down to the fact that Vista didn't prove to be this solution that everyone expected because no one is rushing out and purchasing it off the shelf. As a result Mr Dell just trying to pull a hard one over Microsoft, screw them down so-to-speak because selling via the hardware manufacturers has become only real way for Microsoft to sell their product at all.

    I see this just a common ploy for Dell to flex its muscle against Microsoft, if Dell would go to Linux (or imagine OSX), HP and IBM would eventually have to do the same. If it wasnt for these companies Vista wouldn't sell because I dont see anyone really rushing out and purchasing copies straight off the self, lining up in queues the night before hoping to get their hands on a copy of Vista, because really who's going to waste money something that isnt really that much better then what they already have (XP)?

    Regardless of what Microsoft markets and sells Vista maybe better than XP in someways but its no revolutionary operating system that people MUST have, its simply just another version of what everyone has now (just with a funky GUI and a few other gadgets).

    This whole issue is just the hardware vendors making sure Microsoft remembers who's "really" the important card holders in the industry and who they should be kissing ass too.
  • by laplace_man (856560) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:43AM (#18260192)
    Q1 : Why do we want Dell selling preinstalled Linux PC's and where is his target market ?

    A1. we want to see wide Linux adoption
    A2. we are just tired to put together our own Linux compatible computers
    A3. we are tired of checking for hardware compatibility for laptops
    A4. only Dell or some other powerful PC vendor like IBM/Lenovo could make some pressure on the hardware manufacturers to make Linux drivers or give specifications which on the end could make a better hardware support

    Q2 : Why Dell doesn't want to help us ?

    A1. They are struggling on their market already with win based PC and investment wouldn't return much money (in the beginning)
    A2. there isn't very large demand for Dells computers with Linux preinstalled no matter what happened on Idea storm
    A3. Windows dell deal / partnership (not really sure about this being an obstacle)
    A4. Dell doesn't recognize benefits of Linux software or potential killer apps(they are wrong but probably what they think)
    A5. additional Linux support team(at least that's the way they see things) you need specific Linux distribution experts
    A6. when you are launching new product you need right people to hear about your product and why is this product good 4. So there is also a problem with cost of marketing.
    A7. driver problems and proper support for hardware (they could write their own drivers which cost $,wait for the community to make drivers (time+good hardware specifications))

    Q3:What could Dell do about this demand?

    A1: Try to convince hardware vendors to give specifications for hardware to community or make drivers even though
    A2: Start selling PC's without anything preinstalled in the beginning.
    A3: Accept Linux compatible lable and put it on their PC's with no OS preinstalled this is very important step!!

    Q4:What could community do to change things 4 Dell

    A1: A lot! One of the most important things is making the label from Q3:A3 !!!
    A2: Give your laptops to your wives sisters / colleges and judge by their responses and make things work for them.
    A3: Make Beryl stable enough to get free advertising from the beginning of Linux deployment.
    A4: Make Linux more useful
    A5: Listen to the early adopters and their needs not just wait to get over the learning curve like we did.Not just be happy to know more then others on some matters. Help them with proper GUI (xorg.conf gui editor 4 example)
    A6: Don't give new users RTMF (that's really not good) but help them
    A7: Establish a list of Distributions in given time that have large user base who could make Q4:A1 possible
    A8: Make package managers more beautiful - just like CNR on Linspire !!
    A9: Distributions should have well preconfigured apps to run on the system and should be self explanatory(so that early adopters don't need to read manuals too much)
    A10: Good GUI look and functionality is extremely important in apps and on desktop systems eye candy,eye candy,eye candy even though it's not particularity useful and sometimes takes too much time!!
    A11: Linux community itself doesn't see the power in their hands yet that's the biggest problem.If all people using Linux web servers would put a commercial on their homepage advertising Linux/Linux Desktop on a particular day in the year in thanks to the Linux community I'm sure people would know about Linux and demand for Linux desktops would grow rapidly.


    This is just my point of view. Please change me where I'm wrong

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