Questions I have for Michael Dell regarding Ubuntu

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The free software world erupted into cheering when Canonical announced that Ubuntu would be one of the first GNU/Linux distributions to ship pre-installed on Dell machines. Obviously, this is huge news. A major computer manufacturer has not included a GNU/Linux distribution as a pre-installed option on desktops and laptops in a very long time. However, I’m not getting excited until a few questions are answered.

Question 1: What versions of Ubuntu?

Dell has announced they will offer Ubuntu 7.04. Which ones? After all, Canonical offers five different types of Ubuntu: Ubuntu, Kubuntu (with KDE instead of GNOME), Xubuntu (with XFCE instead of GNOME), Edubuntu (with many educational extras thrown in), and Ubuntu Server Edition.

Obviously, the default Ubuntu will be shipped. But what about Kubuntu? There is a huge KDE fan base that would love to have Kubuntu as an option. In fact, there was a recent topic on the kubuntu-users mailing list about this. Xubuntu probably won’t be shipped as it is geared towards older desktops. What about Edubuntu, the educational distribution that is rapidly being adopted by teachers and parents? Lastly, will Ubuntu Server Edition be added to Red Hat and SuSE as options for Dell servers?

My guess... that Dell probably won’t for the PC department. It will just confuse the average user. Too bad for those of us who are KDE lovers. Whether Ubuntu Server Edition will be added or not is uncertain.

Question 2: What models will include Ubuntu?

Note that in their blog post Dell notes it will offer Ubuntu on select consumer notebooks. Not all. What do they mean by select? Does that mean it will only be offered on a handful of machines? Probably not. But why not at least add that it will be available on certain major series (like the XPS series)?

My guess... as good as yours. Remember that although Dell wants to offer Ubuntu, they also want to offer Windows. If they offer Ubuntu for every computer they sell, Microsoft might start getting mad at Dell. On the other hand, if they only offer it on less popular machines the free software lovers start getting mad.

Question 3: How long will Dell offer Ubuntu pre-installed?

A little known fact is that Dell used to offered Red Hat Linux between 1999 and 2001. Michael Dell at the time was “singing praises" of GNU/Linux. For example, he explained that Dell used it for several jobs, including burning CDs. He even went as far to say that GNU/Linux’s market share was the same as Mac OS in terms of units. Sound familiar (except for the part about Mac OS)? Yet, just two years later, Dell quietly got rid of Red Hat. Of course, that was then and this is now. More and more people are choosing to use Ubuntu over Windows. Also, when people see that they could save $200+ (in some cases, as much as the actual machine), that share will probably go significantly up. Then again, maybe people were saying the same thing in 1999.

My guess...

...depends on Question 2. If Dell offers Ubuntu on its major machines, Ubuntu will stick around on Dell. But if they don’t...

Question 4: Will Ubuntu come with trialware, bloatware, and junkware?

One thing that everyone is forgetting is that Dell ships virtually every single PC they sell with bloatware. “Free AOL For 99 Hours!", “Try Wild Tangent Games Free for 30 Days!", “Sign Up for Netzero Today, and Get Two Months Free!". Will Ubuntu users be faced with this? Will we see icons on the desktop and menu displaying links to “30 Day Trial of StarOffice", “Try VMWare Workstation for 3 Months", or “Demo Version of Win4Lin Pro"? Luckily, one reason Dell puts this junkware in is to lower the cost of the machine. Take Windows out, and the machine is a ton cheaper. But still, who knows?

My guess... that there very well could be. There probably won’t be as much, since $200+ is knocked off the machine’s prices by not including Windows. Still, bloatware on Ubuntu wouldn’t be very encouraging.


Although the fact that a major computer vendor is now shipping Ubuntu is positive, there are quite a few questions to be answered before people should get excited.



ianrt's picture
Submitted by ianrt (not verified) on

The questions you raise are valid, but the real opportunity I see for Linux here is that whichever models are available with whichever version of Ubuntu, there will be available a platform from which to run any version of linux. If the driver issue is sorted out for Ubuntu, say, it is sorted out for any other linux. Installing KDE for instance will give you Kubuntu. If the chipset suppliers to Dell for those particular models are advantaged over others then there will be pressure on the competitors to also provide drivers (if they want an inroad to that market) as Dell will probably want to limit the number of chipsets it uses, regardless of whether the linux market is big or not. Having drivers for particular chipsets will mean any model using those same chipsets will run linux, whether Dell chooses to provide linux pre-installed or not.

NickF's picture
Submitted by NickF (not verified) on

Where did you get the 200USD difference between Windows-powered vs Ubuntu-powered Dells? We all know how heavily discounted Windows is to OEM, without counting on the further discount that comes from installing bloatware. My estimate is about 20-50USD at most.

RT's picture
Submitted by RT (not verified) on

What makes you think there will be any savings at all? It is well known that for large scale licensing of Windows, you have to pay the fee for every machine that is shipped, regardless of whether it is loaded or not.

Mark Cahill's picture
Submitted by Mark Cahill (not verified) on

I read an article about a GNU/Linux user who requested a refund from Dell for his copy of Windows that he never used. The amount was $35 and change. Just because Microsoft sells windows retail for that much doesn't mean that's what Dell pays. Microsoft almost gives Windows away to Dell to ensure that there is vendor locking. May those days end soon...

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

As far as question one goes, if you're savvy enough to know what KDE is and that you'd prefer it to GNOME, then it's probably not too hard for you to install the kubuntu-desktop meta-package and remove the ubuntu stuff.

Fact is, those of the linux crowd who buy an Ubuntu PC from Dell won't be doing it for the convenience of having a disro pre-installed. They'll be doing it to show their support of linux in a more mainstream position (and all that that might entail). I guess many of them will end up scrapping Ubuntu and installing something else anyway.

On the other side of the coin, those customers who are new to linux probably don't care which wm/ui they have, so long as their computer Just Works for them.

Tyler's picture
Submitted by Tyler on

Dell offering one flavour of gnu/linux makes it available to curious newbies who are intimidated by the idea of installing an OS. Of all the newbie-friendly distros around, Ubuntu seems like the obvious choice.

What would they gain by offering even one additional choice? Say Kubuntu, as an example. Then the newb has a choice to make, with no experience to base that decision on. Of the few that stick around long enough to try and figure it out, a sizable portion are likely to stumble upon some gnome vs kde flamefest on the web and walk away in confusion.

This is a great move by Dell, and it's very smart to keep it as simple as possible. If they tried to please linux enthusiasts by offering a variety of distros they'd lose. We're going to install our own anyways, so what's the point of confusing the newbies who will appreciate a pre-installed os.

If you want to nit-pick about the fine details of this deal, go right ahead. But remember, you are the converted, so pleasing you gains us nothing. It's the curious outsider that this is aimed at, not the jaded veteran.

Answers to your questions:

1. Just one, Ubuntu, I hope.
2. A handful at first. I don't imagine it will be too hard to deal with related models - anything that varies primarily by screen/ram/hard drive size shouldn't be an issue to configure.
3. As long as people are buying them.
4. Not a big deal, so long as it is apt-get removable (or whatever tool Ubuntu provides for package management - Synaptic?)

By the way, it costs Dell much less than $200 to put Windows on a machine, and the bloatware also contributes to lowering the price of a box, since it is essentially paid advertising.

So you can continue to sulk about how this deal fails to live up to your standards. For my part I'm optimistic that this will bring more users to GNU/Linux, and more driver support from hardware manufacturers, so that even if I never buy a dell I will benefit from this deal. And if it's still available when I replace my laptop in a few years, it will definitely influence my purchasing decision. Even if I plan to reinstall Debian anyways - at least I'll know the hardware works.


JonAnderson's picture
Submitted by JonAnderson (not verified) on

So much negativity.

1. First of all, there is no reason to complain about Kubuntu not being offered. It's not about which is better: if someone wants Kubuntu, and knows they want Kubuntu, it's as easy as installing kubuntu-desktop. The real issue is hardware compatibility, which brings us to...

2. Dell will only support Ubuntu on "select" models because not all the hardware for all their models is supported by the Linux kernel. Dell will support Ubuntu only on that hardware that they believe offers an appropriate level of quality for their customers (i.e., will minimize the support calls they receive.) This is fine, and having an OEM pushing for greater hardware support for recent devices can only be a good thing.

3. Again, Dell dropped support for Red Hat because it was not cost effective to keep it on. If people really want Ubuntu preinstalled from Dell, it will be profitable, and Dell will continue to offer it.

4. Dell-supported Ubuntu will either come with Dell craplets installed, or the cost will not be impacted as much as we all think. PC's (especially low-end PC's) are so cheap because of all the cost-cutting measures in place, and advertisements that subsidize the cost of your PC are a big part of that. If Dell decides to install craplets in Ubuntu (hopefully with a special Dell APT repo) they can be easily removed or, worst case, replaced in a reinstall of the OS for those who care. Again, the real win here is the hardware support that Dell's weight might bring.

chemicalscum's picture
Submitted by chemicalscum (not verified) on

3. Again, Dell dropped support for Red Hat because it was not cost effective to keep it on. If people really want Ubuntu preinstalled from Dell, it will be profitable, and Dell will continue to offer it.

No - It is common knowledge that Dell dropped its line of desktop RH Linux PC's (while keeping a strong and increasing support for Red Hat on servers) due to strong pressure from MS. Microsoft executive Joachim Kempin wrote "I'm thinking of hitting the OEMs harder than in the past with anti-Linux. ... they should do a delicate dance," with the intention of threatening Dell.

I hope that Dell thinks it can now stand up to MS and make a profit of sales of Linux desktops and laptops to the public and that it is not merely using this as a negotiating tactic with MS.

alejandroz's picture

I agree with Tyler. Enthusiasts will install their own Gentoo, Debian, Slackware or whatever they like. People who want a computer that just works can use Ubuntu, and not learn about choices for now. In any case, alternate DEs and WMs are apt-gettable.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Will Ubuntu customers pay the Windows tax? Dell keeps dodging this question.

Also, are these Ubuntu PCs going to be easy to find and customize? Or hidden away so deeply on their Website that only the most determined person can find them, like the last time they "offered" a Linux desktop PC?

Are they going to be comparable to their windows cousins, or will they be missing components like extra RAM, DVD writers, big hard drives, and so forth? That's what they did before.

Are the Linux pages going to be plastered with "Dell Recommends Vista!" links and ads?

The skepticism about this is well-founded. Time will tell how sincere they are.

Doug Swain's picture

My thought process is that if they take the time to set up a system where it will install bloatware for you nice and easily, maybe they'll do the same for the different variants of Ubuntu also. Since you can install the meta-package and run any version from another one, maybe they'll make some type of system where you run a program to install the package of your choice and switch up the environment for you. That's just a real simple example of one situation, but that would be my optimistic hope for Ubuntu and Dell.

Jeff Rollin's picture

WHY are Dell shortchanging UK customers and treating them like poor relations/second-class customers by refusing to sell Dell PCs preloaded with Linux in the UK?

Honestly, sometimes I feel like this country will be late to its own funeral.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I agree. It seems that Europe in general is the last to get some stuff, and then for daft prices. If it works in America, we will hopefully get DellBuntu eventually. Good thing I'm not in the market for a new PC any time soon..

Personally I would have thought launching in Europe would have been a better idea, as the Linux market is supposed to be stronger than the US.

Wyle_E's picture
Submitted by Wyle_E (not verified) on

I wonder how long it will be before someone posts a clean-up-dell script to the Ubuntu forum?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I have to wonder - if Dell is required by contract to have a Windows license on EVERY desktop system they sell (and that IS common) then perhaps the Ubuntu machines can have the full range of Windows codecs shipped with them? Unless of course the winblows codec licenses say something about non-windows operating systems . . .

Andrew Min's picture

Problem is that many codecs (like Microsoft's Windows Media) require royalties. That's why win32codecs and libdvdcss are illegal without paying to respective people.

Andrew Min

Tyler's picture
Submitted by Tyler on

That's the point that AV was making. If MS insists on Dell paying for an MS license for every computer, even the ones shipped with Ubuntu, then those royalties have already been paid.


Chris Lees's picture

My question to Mr Dell would be "Will Ubuntu machines come with the full range of legal codecs from Fluendo?". It might cost a fair bit (Google "50 euro to USD") for Dell unless they made an agreement with Fluendo; but that would give us a good multimedia experience out-of-the-box AND support the Gstreamer project.

Anders Jackson's picture

Be happy that you get Dell support for having hardware support for Linux on there boxes. It is good for all of us.

And to answer your questions:

  1. As one said, it's an easy "apt-get kde" or use synaptic to get kubuntu, edubuntu, xubunt or what not. I'm ok with Ubuntu. I would be ok with any Linux distribution, but as Ubuntu is Debian-based, I am happy about that :)
  2. This is actually a valid question. And on what market? As someone wrote, EU is supposed to be a better market for Linux. So why not start there (or at least also there). Or even better, world wide distribution of Ubuntu preinstalled.
  3. This is an easy one. Until they don't make a profit that is large enough OR MicroSoft threatens them on this. Dell is a company that have to make a living, so I guess the first on (profit) is major, but the second one (MicroSoft) is also an issue here.
  4. If they want and it is easy to remove, it's ok for me. Just have them install it and I "apt-get --purge remove" it. OR (re)install Debian on it. For me (and most others) this is a non issue. There is other things that is a bigger problem (like not enough customers or MicroSoft threatning Dell for offering Linux on desktops).

So please wait and see what they will give us. REALY hope they get some profit out of it, and start selling Ubuntu on more machines. It will give us all better support for hardware in Linux. Even if you need to "apt-get install kde" to get Kubunto on your machine :)

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/ˈændruː/ /mi:n/
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