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How Dell Is Making Ubuntu Linux More Attractive 160

CWmike writes "Dell was the first of the major computer manufacturers to support pre-installed Linux, but it's not just pre-installing Linux. The Austin, Tex. company is also adding functionality to Ubuntu Linux on its desktops and laptops, writes Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. It began by adding DVD-playback to its systems shipping with Ubuntu 7.10. With the recent release of Dell PCs with Ubuntu 8.04, Dell is now including 'Fluendo GStreamer codecs for mp3, wma (Windows Media Audio), and wmv (Windows Media Video) playback' in its latest Ubuntu-powered desktops and laptops. On Ubuntu systems with ATI or NIVDIA graphics, Dell also now supports HDMI output. Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company hopes to steal a page from Apple's playbook and change how it works with hardware makers in an attempt to duplicate its rival's success. Is OS customization the way forward for desktop Linux, and Windows?"
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How Dell Is Making Ubuntu Linux More Attractive

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  • by Naughty Bob ( 1004174 ) * on Saturday July 26, 2008 @06:18PM (#24351805)
    ....or saving on support costs?

    It's really a no-brainer- if you're going to sell computers, they better be able to do out of the box everything that people know computers can do. They'll save $$$ on call-centre robots, there's no choice.
    • Are they mutually exclusive?

      Many of the biggest boons to open source software have come about not because of converts to the religion, but because of business seeking the best solution to a given problem. If paying $x to customize Ubuntu is cheaper than paying $x+y to support users without it, most businesses are going to customize Ubuntu for sufficiently large values of y.


      • by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @01:16AM (#24355051) Journal

        My larger concern is are they doing it correctly? Are they adding this functionality by creating policy compliant debs and installing them? If not they are actually hurting Ubuntu by making it harder for the Ubuntu support systems to function.

        Debian (and thus its derivatives) has historically had one of the nicest package management systems (although these days emerge and yum have made the difference much much smaller than it once was). However the cost of that is that the system requires that packages conform to a relatively strict set of policies, and that hand installed software be installed into /usr/local instead of /usr.

        Debs not conforming to those policies, or manual installation of software to /usr can potentially wreck havoc on the system. even if it does not, any problems resulting from them can be far more difficult to diagnose.

        • by Knuckles ( 8964 )

          At least Dell seems to be in a very close dialog with Ubuntu. And Fluendo also has quite some experience and employ some important people from the free sofware community, I doubt they would create bad packages.

        • I for one welcome our .deb overlords. Having a strict policy on packaging is a very good idea. It allows installation of software to also include reasonably rapid upgrading and patching as required.

          So the pain is felt by the developer once working their way through the policies. the users never(for various values of never) need to deal with trying to clean up a crufted system. And let's be honest. If Linux is better, more attractive, and easier to use and maintain, it stops being a toy, and starts being

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rudy_wayne ( 414635 )

      I believe it's going to be just the opposite ..... more support calls. Once again everyone is missing the point. It's not the OS -- it's the ability to get things done. I loved OS/2 and BeOS but they were ultimately useless because of a lack of appications and device drivers.

      For example my 75 year old aunt has been heavily interested in Geneolgy for many years and has hundreds of pages of data and photos. So she decided that she wanted a computer. She went to Best Buy and bought a Gateway and one of he

      • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @07:16PM (#24352345) Journal
        While I agree that the important thing is to "get things done," people have to know the limitations of the things they buy. If she didn't know she was running linux and bought software that was specifically only made for windows, that's her fault. I don't go to the store and buy new DVD's and try to make them work with my tape deck. The fact that I just wanted to play music is not an argument against the tape deck. Saying "she didn't know" is a cop-out, I don't get out of a speeding ticket because I didn't know what the limit was on that street. Sorry that she was so mad, but that's life.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I think an important issue is the fact that we, as consumers, allow retail to tell us that we cannot return open box software. Hell, you can even return open food to a supermarket, but you can't return an item that has (effectively) no expiration date.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by rudy_wayne ( 414635 )

          [If she didn't know she was running linux and bought software that was specifically only made for windows, that's her fault. I don't go to the store and buy new DVD's and try to make them work with my tape deck. The fact that I just wanted to play music is not an argument against the tape deck. Saying "she didn't know" is a cop-out,]

          This is utter bullshit. There are numerous technologies that the elderly know nothing about. To say that she's supposed to know about Linux is beyond absurd.

        • This is not flamebait! The poster is right-- blissful ignorance is sweet and grandmotherly and all, but it doesn't work in the real world, and it opens up grandma to be being scalped. It's lucky it was even possible to reinstall Windows (or did she have to buy another copy?) after nimrod-nephew wiped her machine to install Ubuntu. There's a saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but this case proves that no knowledge is even worse. It's OK to explain it to grandma... if she's learning how to u
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Yes, even the camera requires a driver to transfer pictures.

        Unless she bought a toy digital camera with a non-standard chipset, it should have worked fine. Either digiKam or f-spot should have been able to find and download the photos. If not, the camera should have shown up on the desktop and you could have used copy/paste to get them onto the hard disk. Sounds like Granny was talked into buying a cheap camera instead of a good one.

        • by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <brian.wylfing@net> on Sunday July 27, 2008 @10:31AM (#24357789) Homepage Journal

          Sadly, your comment will be overlooked or modded down, as will mine. The OP of this thread told one of those phony "case study" stories cooked up by marketing to sow fear about competing products. Aunt Mildred? Are you serious? Unfortunately, a lot of people bought into the fake story.

          The FACT is as you point out: virtually any digital camera will work perfectly on Linux without installing anything. Just plug the camera in, and it works. The FACT is also that an HP photo printer/scanner/copier will work instantly, just plug it in.

          The FACT is that if you sat down with 20 consumer devices, a Linux box, and a Windows box, and installed no software/drivers/etc., that 15+ of those devices would work just fine on Linux and probably zero of them would work on Windows. And even after installing software and drivers, you will wouldn't get more than 18 out of 20 working perfectly on Windows -- you'd have to hunt on websites for updated drivers or some garbage like that. Whereas additional software installation on Linux will also get you up to 18 out of 20 devices. No different at all in the final analysis, except that for most of the devices it's easier to get up and running on Linux.

          So, OP, please take your fabricated "Aunt Mildred" stories back to 1999 where they belong.

          • I wouldn't go so far as to say any HP printer will just work... I switched several machines where I work to linux as a means of keeping the hardware running when we were getting rid of the old OS (Win 98) they ran... I used Ubuntu and none of them had any luck with any HP printer we have (mostly laserjets) each time I had to reinstall the latest bundle of HP printing supporting files (I forget the name of the package) as the one installed by defaulted and even updated in ubuntu couldn't find the printers...

      • Well, it's not as if Dell isn't selling Windows PCs as well. Aunt Mildred's situation was unfortunate in that her nephew knew just enough to be dangerous. But if you're just looking for a computer on the Dell site, you're not even going to find the Linux machines. They're not really front and center.
      • by GWBasic ( 900357 )

        The point is very simply this. Yes you can set up a computer with Linux that performs routine tasks and is easy enough for Aunt Mildred to use. But eventually everyone -- even Aunt Mildred -- outgrows routine tasks. Remember WebTV? Remember (hardware) Word Processors? Where are they now? I believe that Dell will save a few dollars by not installing Windows but spend much more than that on support calls. There are a lot of Aunt Mildreds out there.

        You certainly have a point; although there needs to be a push for interoperable standards.

        For example, I can buy a DVD and play it in any DVD player; no single company completely controls the DVD specification. (With the exception of 5.1 sound...)

        On the other hand, I have to run XP under VMware Fusion because we still don't have a good system for software interoperability.

        I hope computer manufacturers start pushing for interoperable software/hardware standards. Aunt Mildred shouldn't have to buy a Windows

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Boltronics ( 180064 )

        The problem is that Aunt Mildred shouldn't be using a computer without being properly educated on how to use it.

        My parents are the same - they can figure out how to use e-mail *usually*, but when something goes wrong they have no basic understanding of how things are supposed to work, and hence where the problem may be. They don't even know the difference between a web browser, "the Internet" or an e-mail client, despite having used a computer for a few years now.

        In the case of my parents, they have zero in

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:38AM (#24356255)

        The nephew left out one of the largest strengths of Ubuntu when showing it to your aunt.

        The fact that you can easilly install a large amount of Free Software using the add/remove programs menu.

        I did some Googling, and turned up some Free genealogy Software called GRAMPS []. I don't know if it's in the ubuntu software respositories, but it probably is. If not, there are Ubuntu debs on the page. So, as for the genealogy software, she wouldn't have to have gone to the store to start with, and she wouldn't have had that problem.

        As for the scanner and digital cameras, it's unfortunate that the cameras she ended up getting didn't work with Ubuntu. It's often frustrating for me to buy certain kinds of hardware myself, and I run the slightly more mainstream Mac OS X. (As good as Ubuntu is, and I think it's definitely better than Windows, I still prefer Mac OS X.) But, the point it, there *are* scanners and digital cameras out there that work with Linux. And had she bought a Dell with Ubuntu on it (which this article is about), you bet she'd probably be able to call them to ask about compatible hardware.

        In the end, I'd say the fault was with the nephew for not educating your aunt with two simple facts:

        - It's Ubuntu, and you can actually find lots of software to do what you want to do using the add/remove programs program, which is a better way to find software than going to your local computer store and hope they have Linux software.

        - It's Ubuntu which means you have to make sure any hardware you buy will work with your system.

        In the end though, I have to agree with the point you were making -- Ubuntu preinstalled on a Dell will probably cause some more support calls to Dell -- calls that wouldn't have been made were the computer preinstalled with Windows.

        However -- Ubuntu preinstalled might also lead to *less* support calls, because of less problems with spyware, malware, adware, crapware and viruses.

        Though, I guess you could argue that's a negative for Dell too. No more buying another computer after a year, and throwing away the old one because it's infested with crapware. Why should Dell rock the boat? >:-)

      • Then maybe grandma should have gone to [] instead of wasting loads of money on genealogy software which doesn't work..

        Yeah, yeah, I know. Didn't look at the options but maybe next time you should recommend it. Not only is it easier, it is more fun and the whole family can get involved.

        Also means you don't need to be at your computer to show someone the tree.

  • Dell are releasing BIOS upgrades for their laptops to cope with the Nvidia weak component problem (basically the fan will spin up sooner). This includes the laptop models that come with Linux preinstalled. Except there's no BIOS updater that will run under Linux; they're all Windows [] based (although if you have a DOS floppy knocking around you can use that)

    <tongue location="cheek"> Of course that might be ok as lets face it 3d gaming under Linux is as likely as Stallman shaving and looking respectabl

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Dell are releasing BIOS upgrades for their laptops to cope with the Nvidia weak component problem (basically the fan will spin up sooner). This includes the laptop models that come with Linux preinstalled. Except there's no BIOS updater that will run under Linux; they're all Windows [] based (although if you have a DOS floppy knocking around you can use that)

      Umm...Dell has a Linux BIOS updater in its SMBIOS library []. The only downside is that you might have to install wine for the image extraction (though it says it is still doable without).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 26, 2008 @08:39PM (#24353139)
      (although if you have a DOS floppy knocking around you can use that)

      What the hell? You have such a low userID ... how can you possibly not know about Free DOS []?

      I have never been unable to apply a BIOS update using a bootable Free DOS CD. (And prior to that, OpenDOS.) There's an ISO at the Free DOS website. It doesn't get any easier than that. So what was your complaint again?
    • OHAI. I just cleared the "Portal: The Flash Version" map-pack (it's really a full alternate game, a sort of "Portal Master Quest") on Portal tonight. While running Linux.

  • by LVSlushdat ( 854194 ) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @06:31PM (#24351925)

    Yes.. it does seem that Dell is at least paying lip service to Ubuntu/Linux, but just *try* to find the few systems that Dell has deemed to have Ubuntu installed on.. Not easy at all.. And when you do stumble upon the page, they try to scare you off by insinuating that you won't be getting Windows if you buy a system from the following pages.. Oh yeah, they're *really* supporting Linux.. I wanted a nice Core2Duo laptop with Ubuntu on it.. The only ones they preinstall Ubuntu on are the Inspiron/XPS systems.. I wanted a corporate system, ie: Latitude or Vostro system with it... Solly Cholly, only these few systems will we offend the great M$ on.. So I checked out the Dell Outlet, found a VERY nice Vostro 1400 with most everything I wanted, for $519, and proceeded to wipe Microsoft Yawn (also known as Vista) off it, and installed Ubuntu, which was a piece of cake.. But, since it came with Windows, MS gets to claim it as one of the hundreds of thousands of copies of Vista they've shipped..
    Thanks Dell.. Great machines, but you don't seem to have the balls to stand up to M$...

    • I take your point about the choice but in the UK site at least its easier to find Ubuntu [] (its on both the desktop and laptop drop down menus) than XP [] which is currently blank and recommending Vista.

    • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @07:28PM (#24352427) Homepage Journal

      It's not that hard to find Open Source/Ubuntu systems on the Dell US site:

      Open, choose "For Home", then click "Laptop" from the drop-down menu. Open Source systems are linked under the heading "PC Operating Systems" on the left side menu (bottom of menu).

      Or,, choose "For Office > Small Business", then click "Desktop" from the drop-down menu. Open Source systems are listed under "FreeDOS and Linux Desktops"

      Now, as for the selection of systems, I'm happy with the systems they offer ($WORK just bought a fleet of new "N Series" desktops (Optiplex 755n to be exact), and there was a fine selection of hardware/upgrades available (including ATI discrete graphics cards)...

      If they really wanted to hide them, they could have done a much better job of it... I think if I were truely looking for a system with no OS/Ubuntu, I could find it quite easily.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hasbeard ( 982620 )
      Well, since if you buy Ubuntu you aren't getting a Windows system, it isn't an insinuation, it is the truth. I have read the page you are talking about, and it seems to be their intent is to make sure people know what they are buying.
      • if they wanted to write the truth they'd have this written on every page where you can buy a computer with vista:

        the main thing to know about windows vista is that it's an operating system we wouldn't be selling if microsoft hadn't stopped letting us sell xp.

        the thing is, you read every line of their ubuntu-warning page and you just know, it had to be okayed by microsoft.

    • by Knuckles ( 8964 )

      just *try* to find the few systems that Dell has deemed to have Ubuntu installed on.. Not easy at all..

      On I enter "linux" in the search box. Then it shows me laptops, desktops, rackmounts, printers, and so on. I also get results for support info, helpfiles, etc. In the frame on the left I can limit the search results to specific categories (Server:27, Desktops: 10, Laptops: 3, and so on).

      Are other dell domains different?

  • Anybody know of a motherboard with HDMI out that supports audio? The closest I've seen is the Asus P5E-VM HDMI [], but haven't been able to find anything definitive on HDMI audio support in Linux.

  • HDMI is a nice step, but how does it handle h.264 decoding? Does it have hardware decoding in the GPUs or simply work by CPU decoding? And in either case, what kind of performance does it deliver? 1080p easily? Choppy? 720p?

    • Any modern CPU can play 1080p h.264 easily, purely in software. My 2.5 year old Athlon X2 4200+ (2x 2.2 Ghz) can play 1080p h.264 content perfectly, with only ~85% CPU usage of one core (the other being entirely idle).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hektor_Troy ( 262592 )

        An Atom CPU is a modern CPU ... and I sincerely doubt that it could hand'e 1080p h.264 even at full speed.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          I think the standard companion chipset does 720p in hardware, but the CPU no way... honestly, it would be very nice to have a HW acceleration not only for making it happen at all but for power consumption too... having a CPU burn compared to a chip maybe giving off a watt or two does add up every time you watch a movie. It's not very often otherwise your CPU works hard for two hours straight.

  • The Austin, Tex. company is also adding functionality to Ubuntu Linux [CC] on its desktops and laptops. It began by adding DVD-playback to its systems shipping with Ubuntu 7.10

    Michael Robertson [] spent seven years trying to hammer this lesson home with Linspire and CNR.

    • I see you have slashdotter installed in firefox.

      I really hate to constantly bash ubuntu, but it really should come with all this stuff OUT OF THE BOX. Sabayon comes with all of this stuff ready to go, and that's part of why I like it so much; i don't have to muck about with this shit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Knuckles ( 8964 )

        Ubuntu CANNOT legally provide them, and I guess you might see how a gratis OS cannot pay Fluendo or the DVD mafia for legit codecs. Dell can, with the customer's money.

        Also, besides DVD decryption, Ubuntu offers to install the required codecs when you want to play files that need them (but warns you that you are responsible for legality yourself). Besides, any Windows I have seen to this day came without divx codecs and Media Player failed to install them when it tried.

  • Every time some big player starts pushing Linux, Microsoft makes it go away. Wal-Mart has sold Linux machiens twice, then backed off; they no longer seem to sell any Linux machines. Fry's has stopped selling Linux machines.

    Go to the Dell site [] and try to find a Linux laptop. It's quite hard to find. Even when you finally find the Ubuntu page, for which you will probably have to search, the first thing you see is "Not sure Open Source is for You? The main thing to note is that when you choose open source

    • I think many of the WalMart Linux machines were retrurned by people thinking computer == run all the software WalMart sells. The best market for general public Linux users are those who don't need to constantly play the latest game or just for email, office work, such as grandparents or young kids - they would welcome something that does not get messed up all the time.

      • I've personally thought that a good market for Linux users would be those console gamers who:

        1. Like a good PC port now and then.
        2. But play consoles because they don't want to have to spend a lot of time and money on gaming and want something that just works.
        3. And are geeky enough to be willing to read a few books or join message boards to learn how to use Linux.

        Heck maybe they could be encouraged to install Linux on their gaming console. Admittedly that gaming console would most likely be a PS3 since it

    • Go to the Dell site and try to find a Linux laptop. It's quite hard to find.

      It's not quite advertised now, but it is much easier to get to them than it was when they were launched. Before you had to search for them or know they were there. Now it's not far off the main page. On choose the 'Home and Home office' or the 'Small and Medium Business' link then when you run over the Laptops and Desktops menus at the top what do you see? "Open-source Laptops' and desktops. So it's not wildly out in th
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by irussel ( 78667 )

      Go to the Dell site and try to find a Linux laptop. It's quite hard to find.

      um, maybe try []?

    • Every time some big player starts pushing Linux, Microsoft makes it go away. Wal-Mart has sold Linux machiens twice, then backed off; they no longer seem to sell any Linux machines. Fry's has stopped selling Linux machines.

      WalMart has tried to make a go of every OEM Linux distro known to man.

      But inevitably the Linux product becomes the bottom feeder.

      The gOS system that ships without a working modem in a market that is often still dependent on dial-up. That is installed in the biggest case anyone can fi

  • These decoders are non free software, to me this breaks the spirit of the linux comunity.
    • What's the alternative?

      1) Risk licensing lawsuit from codec owners
      2) Ship without codec support.

      If you want your linux to suck. Uninstall.

    • by Glonoinha ( 587375 ) on Saturday July 26, 2008 @08:46PM (#24353175) Journal

      When I was young I had an older man explain to me "I strongly disagree with what you are saying, but I would fight to the death for your right to say it."
      Perhaps the spirit of the Linux community would be better served by promoting true software freedom, including the freedom to use non-free software in order to do what a Linux user wants to do.

      That is, after all, what freedom is all about.

    • The "Free" software is also supposedly illegal as they didnt pay the mathematics patent fees.

      Dell is only doing things legal. I cant blame them for that, nor can the MPEG2 patent holders.

    • Wah, wah, wah. This is the same retarded thing we hear every time someone does something that isn't FOSS in Linux. Guess what, man? The vast majority of the world just wants their shit to work. We don't give a flying fuck if it's "free software" or not, because we aren't ever going to need the ability to modify it. We just want it to do what we want it to do. The entire mindset of free software zealots is off-base: the highest goal is functionality, not ideology. The zealots may put ideology first, but, wel
      • You've only hit on part of what free software is about. It's also about being unencumbered by patent messes, so the same code isn't reimplemented in a dozen different ways, and programmers aren't figuring out work-arounds for existing patents.
    • Not necessarily... Many Linux users tend to be pragmatic, preferring FOSS, but not insistent on it.

      I do appreciate your views, don't misunderstand.

  • Look, it's great they offer the option to get Ubuntu preinstalled, but you might want to look at what exactly they're doing before holding them up as a good example. If you go through the build process for an XPS1330, you'll find that there are FAR fewer hardware options available when building a Ubuntu-based machine compared to a Vista-based machine, and I'm not talking about hardware for which there may not be drivers, either. Fewer CPU options, storage options, etc. It's completely ridiculous, and it pro

  • "Codices" is the plural of codex (i.e. book), not codec. Unless the summary really does mean that Dell is throwing in a collection of books from Fluendo about the mp3, wma, and wmv formats, in which case I apologize.

  • Why don't you offer Ubuntu on your XPS Desktop line?

    The Ubuntu desktop box you are offering now is rather paltry by comparison.

    If I were buying a Windows Desktop box from you, I'd be getting an XPS for sure.

    I'm very happy that Dell is offering Ubuntu. It's good for everyone. But please give Linux users more of the model choices that you offer with Windows.

    • Pretty sure the XPS line is targeted toward gamers.

      Get more games ported on Linux... I don't know who's picked this torch up ever since Loki went under.
      • Gamers and Enthusiasts.

        But the low-end XPS is also just a nice multimedia PC.

        More expansion slots and so forth.

        I actually could care less about games. I'd buy an XPS Desktop if I were buying a Dell PC because it gives me the options I want.

        At the very least, a GPU and a sound card.

        Oh and Ubuntu *is* an option with the XPS notebook.

  • by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @02:08AM (#24355379) Homepage

    When I read the headline I thought they meant Dell was re-branding it and removing the orange/brown!

    On a slightly more serious note, it's good to see that they're doing what the consumer needs and making things like MP3/DVD playback easier. Yes, it might upset some purists, but they can just buy the machine and wipe back to a default, or go for a machine from another company that can't afford to bundle the codecs.

  • Installing certain programs by default? That's what a distro is. As long as I can so-called "customize" my system by installing any of these programs that Dell is installing, I'll be fine. You don't need to buy a Dell computer to get certain programs though, unless they're the only provider and they aren't open sourced and you can't buy just the program from them, or unless you simply want those programs to be default. I'll take anything over Windows when I buy a complete computer, since I don't use it,
  • After using Linux for a couple of years, it has become very clear to me that most Linux distributions run under the philosophy that they should distribute the bare minimum to allow the users to build up their custom drivers and software collection. Instead, shouldn't they distribute as MUCH as possible to increase compatibility? Knowledge is a burden. The people who don't know every little detail about their hardware shouldn't have to go through the extra work to get it working. It's the nerds, like us, w
    • by Splab ( 574204 )

      The problem is you then get marked as bloated, and since it's geeks recommending distros said distro will probably not get recommended.

System restarting, wait...