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Dell Opens Up About Desktop Linux 517

Posted by CmdrTaco
An anonymous reader writes "Michael Dell explains his company's Linux desktop strategy in an interview at DesktopLinux.com. He says that it's not practical for Dell (the company) to support numerous distributions due to their incompatibilities, but that he doesn't want alienate large segements of the Linux community by selecting a favorite Linux distro to standardize on (Ubuntu appears to be his favorite, at the moment, by the way.) What he'd really like to see, is for the popular Linux distros to converge on a common core platform, according to the article."
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Dell Opens Up About Desktop Linux

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  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by engagebot (941678) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:00AM (#14874392)
    Funny, thats what most haven't-quite-switched-yet Linux users want too...
    • Re:Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tpgp (48001) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14874449) Homepage
      Funny, thats what most haven't-quite-switched-yet Linux users want too...

      No they don't - they want hardware that works out of the box on the distro they chose.

      I'd be happy if Dell supported one distro (or hell, even netBSD). It would mean that other distro's could look at the drivers used & have an easy time supporting Dell.

      Its not rocket science Michael, don't try to make it harder then it really is. Support one distro (my suggestion is Debian, as you get a nice slow moving target, or Ubuntu, for predictable release cycles) but it doesn't really matter which one you support
      • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

        by srussell (39342) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:48AM (#14874759) Homepage Journal
        I'd be happy if Dell supported one distro (or hell, even netBSD). It would mean that other distro's could look at the drivers used & have an easy time supporting Dell.
        Agreed, and good point. Dell only has to make sure that everything on their (supported) laptop works under some version of Linux, and make things like the kernel config available on a support site. The people who care about which distribution they use will be able to tweak their own distribution for the laptop, and the people who don't care won't complain about Dell's choice of distribution.

        Besides; it'll be a cold day in hell when the Linux community converges on a single distribution. Distributions like Gentoo will always be popular with people like me who are sick of the dependency hell of Redhat, the crippled nature of Debian (which doesn't ship with mplayer or mp3 support, fer christsake), or whatever. And there are a ton of people who think compiling everything from scratch is obsessive and takes too long.

        In GoboLinux, binary and source packages are both first-class citizens, which is nice, but talk about diverging from the norm -- geez. *I* like Gobo, but there's about as much chance of it becoming The Linux Distribution as... well, as G.W. Bush has of being accepted by MENSA.

        I'm not surprised that Dell doesn't grok the Linux community; if he did, he'd understand the parent poster's point, but you have to understand the fact that the Linux community is largely comprised of DIYers.

        --- SER

        • Re:Funny (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:59AM (#14875517)
          Maybe that's the point - Dell doesn't have the Linux community as a potential customer (because they want everything for free :-) )

          Dell has to pander to the kind of custoemr he already has - businesses who don't mind paying for something as long as it works, and works well. So if he picked RedHat (for instance), shipped a support contract with each box, they'd be very happy and he'd sell loads of Linux boxes. The Linux community would probably complain that it wasn't Debian though and wouldn't buy the boxes anyway, so maybe he has grokked the community correctly.

          I agree that have any distro would be a good thing (and I think RedHat EL4 woudl be a good choice given the demographic of Dell's target audience - they mosty run CentOS for their web-connected servers anyway).
          • Re:Funny (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Dan Ost (415913)
            What about those of us who make purchasing decisions for big business? We're already buying from Dell and, if Dell sold a machine whose hardware was 100% supported by Linux, you can be sure we'd purchase those models even if we didn't use the distro pre-installed since we would know that our distro of choice would also support said hardware.

            It's a mistake to think that all Linux users are hobbiests who want everything for free. Some of us spend big money on hardware.
      • Re:Funny (Score:4, Insightful)

        by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:02AM (#14874890) Homepage
        This, RIGHT HERE, is the problem. An industry powerhouse like Michael Dell tells the Linux community what he wants, and how does the Linux community respond? By insisting that he's wrong and telling him what he actually wants.

        It's called listening, folks. Maybe if the Linux community started listening to what users are SAYING they want, instead of dictating it to them, Linux would see wider adoption.
        • Re:Funny (Score:4, Informative)

          by Omega1045 (584264) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:20AM (#14875026)
          The parent post is on-target. And it is not like Dell is not supporting Linux at all. Plus, they offer a lot of resources for those machines that do not come with Linux installed: http://linux.dell.com/ [dell.com]
        • Maybe is IS wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

          by metamatic (202216) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:20AM (#14875029) Homepage Journal
          Linux had a movement towards a single distribution--it was called UnitedLinux [unitedlinux.com]. It died due to lack of interest.

          The problem is, when you put companies in the driving seat for a push to a single Linux distribution, you get crap like RPM being made part of the standard. Personally, I'm glad UnitedLinux failed to gain overwhelming momentum, because life's too short to have to deal with RPM.
          • by gbjbaanb (229885)
            again, another Linux poster starts complaining about something trivial and religious. Is it because RPM is a RedHat-defined thing, and RedHat 'sold out'?

            Its this kind of b*ll*cks that has stopped Dell from supporting Linux, read what the he said about the community complaining if he picked a distro, and you have exactly demonstrated why he's right.
            • by metamatic (202216) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:12PM (#14877506) Homepage Journal
              No, it's nothing to do with RPM being from RedHat.

              RedHat also originated ntsysv, and that beats the pants off Debian's craptastic update-rc.d.

              The point is that because of the freedom associated with Linux, people are free to make decisions based on technical merit rather than marketing. Michael Dell's request is a marketing request: Linux would be easier to sell if it was unified.

              As a user of Linux, I don't care how easy it is to sell--I'm much more interested in how easy it is to use, how reliable it is, and so on. Those things would be damaged by (for example) making RPM ubiquitous, making sendmail ubiquitous, making GNOME the standard desktop, making MySQL the only relational DB, and so on--even though those same changes would likely make Linux sell better.

              In other words, what's good for marketing Linux to new users is often bad for those who are already Linux users. And absent the ability to force distributions to standardize, there will always be a market for distributions that do what's best for the users, rather than what's best for companies.
        • Re:Funny (Score:4, Insightful)

          by kkovach (267551) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:24AM (#14875067)
          http://distrowatch.com/stats.php [distrowatch.com]

          How can you get any "wider adoption" than that?

          You too can listen as well as anyone else. This is not an issue of the linux community not listening to somebody. This is not Windows. It's a different environment, and it doesn't work the way you think it should. That doesn't mean it can't work.

          Practice what you preach and listen ...

          "I'd be happy if Dell supported one distro (or hell, even netBSD). It would mean that other distro's could look at the drivers used & have an easy time supporting Dell."

          As soon as that happened the rest of the linux community could more easily get their distro of choice working on Dell machines as well. Why is that so hard to understand? That's how the linux community works.

          - Kevin
        • Re:Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

          by x-router (694339) <richard.x-router@com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:30AM (#14875150)
          Why would we care to listen?

          The key to Linux is diversity and who cares if we alienate Mr AOL etc. Everyone everywhere seems to be trying to tell the community what to do atm yet we are still here plodding on in our own directions some totally contrary to others and yet still making great things happen our own ways.

          Thats what made Linux and OSS what it is in the first place by not conforming to someone in a suit who probably types with one finger and assumes to know what is best for us.

          • Re:Funny (Score:3, Insightful)

            by goldspider (445116)
            And that's perfectly valid. I agree that diversity has its strengths, but it also has its weaknesses too.

            There seem to be two competing factions among Linux users. One wants to keep Linux diverse, flexible, and (admit it) fragmented. The other wants to see Linux gain market share (especially at the expense of Microsoft) and see consolidation and standardization as the means to accomplish it.

            You sound like the former. Michael Dell is backing the latter.
        • Re:Funny (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ookaze (227977) <ookaze@mail.ookaze.OPENBSDfr minus bsd> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:32AM (#14875176) Homepage
          This, RIGHT HERE, is the problem

          YES !!

          An industry powerhouse like Michael Dell tells the Linux community what he wants

          Said in another way, the VENDOR is telling us CLIENTS what he wants. This is BS of course, and not at all the way it works.
          Let's see what your conclusions are ...

          and how does the Linux community respond? By insisting that he's wrong and telling him what he actually wants

          What ? You mean us CLIENTS are asking the VENDOR what we want ? We tell him he's wrong and tell him what we want.
          That looks like a very good thing to me. Now, does he listen ?

          It's called listening, folks

          Exactly, Dell has to listen.

          Maybe if the Linux community started listening to what users are SAYING they want, instead of dictating it to them, Linux would see wider adoption

          And there you lost me. The Linux community is the users you talk about here, so your sentence does not make any sense. Dell sure enough is not the user here.
          And basically, the GP is saying to Dell to stop assuming things about us USERS, especially because these things are BS, and that supporting any distro will do the job.
          • Re:Funny (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Keith Russell (4440)

            The nature of Open Source means that the Linux "community" is both the users and the distro maintainers. Poor Dell* is stuck in the middle.

            *: I can't believe I just used "poor Dell" in a sentence.

          • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

            by The Breeze (140484) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:19PM (#14876402) Homepage
            Oh, give me a break.

            The PARENT is right.

            The Linux Community needs to listen to Dell, not the other way around.

            Are we "clients" of Dell? Yeah, sort of, but let's face it, if Linux disappeared overnight it would not make a bit of difference to Dell's bottom line. There is simply no profit motive for them to listen to a bunch of whiny, "gimmie gimmie gimme Micro$oft SUXORS!" idiots who can't even agree on a common desktop environment.

            On the other hand, if the Linux community listens to Dell - who, personally, is obvious sympathetic to Linux - and agrees on certain standards that would make it possible for Dell to ship a "generic" Linux distro and basic RPM & .DEB drivers that could theoretically work with any distro - well, then that would be a TRUE win for Linux.

            I've used Dell support for Linux Servers. They want RedHat Enterprise, and I can understand it, because from a support perspective, it is predictable. I called 'em up and said, "Hey, I'm running CentOS, a RHEL clonse, just treat me like I'm running RedHat, ok?" and the techs say "sure!" and eagerly get to helping me with my problems. The Dell Techs are smart enought (well, the business ones based in the US, the Indians have to stick to their scripts) to support a "baseline" linux. However, it would be an UNPROFITABLE support nightmare to support every - or even the 5 biggest - distros out there.

            Go ahead. Whine about how "Dell doesn't listen to the Linux community". You'll score points with the Linux zealots who find it easier to badmouth the 90% of the world that doesn't use Linux. But, if you want to make true Linux desktop adaption a reality - if you want to see Linux develop a true installed base that would prevent Microsoft from doing something wacky like develop proprietary extensions that "everyone must have" or enough of an installed base so that some big, coroporate lobbyists will DEFEND Linux when our braindead politicians are bought off by other big corporate lobbyists try to ban Linux form some ridiculous reason - and don't laugh, it's on the horizon, there are powerful interests - both corporate and governmental (RIAA, anyone) that think the idea of people being able to actually work their own computer hardware & software is a Bad Thing(tm) - well, if you want to see Linux groow, then listen to what people like Michael Dell say, and figure out wheat we can do to make their lives easier.

            Our numbers are not enough for Dell to listen. Be nice, and they will work with us on hardware, and slowly, we will gain more influence. Be rude and insulting, and they'll tune us out.

        • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

          by JasonKChapman (842766) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:44AM (#14875339) Homepage
          This, RIGHT HERE, is the problem. An industry powerhouse like Michael Dell tells the Linux community what he wants, and how does the Linux community respond? By insisting that he's wrong and telling him what he actually wants.

          Do you honestly believe that's what Dell was saying? Personally, I think that's total horse crap! Allow me to run this through the BS filter for you. The BS-less version goes something like this:

          Well, we can get away with Linux on servers, but if we get anywhere near the desktop, Gates will castrate me. So to stay on Bill's good side I'll tell everyone that the real reason is Microsoft-approved anti-Linux FUD item #37. No one will ever notice that it makes absolutely no business sense.

          How does a plethora of distributions affect Dell choosing and supporting one of them? It doesn't. What keeps them from getting inundated with tech support calls regarding fifty different distros right now? Nothing. It's just "Sorry, we don't support that." How would selling and supporting a machine with distro-X on it change that? It wouldn't. Tech support calls for distro-Y just get "Sorry, we don't support that."

          It's Dell's mouth moving, but it's Gates doing the talking.

          • Re:Funny (Score:4, Interesting)

            by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:02PM (#14875554) Homepage
            There's a simpler explanation.

            Linux has far more at stake in getting a Dell/Linux deal than does Dell.
          • Re:Funny (Score:4, Informative)

            by MoneyT (548795) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:42PM (#14876016) Journal
            How does a plethora of distributions affect Dell choosing and supporting one of them? It doesn't. What keeps them from getting inundated with tech support calls regarding fifty different distros right now? Nothing. It's just "Sorry, we don't support that." How would selling and supporting a machine with distro-X on it change that? It wouldn't. Tech support calls for distro-Y just get "Sorry, we don't support that."

            Because customers are fucking stupid. I don't mean your average dumbass stupid, I mean belly crawling gutter shit stupid. All the customer is going to know is that they have linux on their computer. As soon as they call in and here "sorry we don't support that distribution" they're going to be pissed because to the customer is Linux. It's not RedHat Linux, it's not Ubuntu Linux, it's not SuSE linux. The customer doesn't give a shit who made the distribution all they know is that it's Linux and dell sells boxes with linux and they want support.

            Ask anyone who works in tech support how suprisingly common it is for people to not understand such simple concepts.
        • Re:Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ErikZ (55491) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:36PM (#14875958)
          Oh please.

          A company the size of Dell doesn't ask us what version of Linux is going to be on a Dell, it tells us.

          All he has to do is partner up with Red Hat. Dell supports the hardware, Red Hat supports the software. Done.

  • I agree with Mr Dell (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Leadmagnet (685892) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:01AM (#14874403) Homepage
    he is right - Too many incompatable distros are hurting the advancement of linux in the corp marketplace. In a way having just one overweling popular distro making up 80% of the Linux marketplace would actually help with Linux's more wide acceptance.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:06AM (#14874428)
      You're free to make your own distro that will take 80% market share any time you like! Ahh the beauty of Linux!
      • by PhYrE2k2 (806396)
        Which comes first? The popular distro or the market share?

        Think if Dell offered Linux to the average consumer and worked with the Vendor to provide support it'd give them the market share? Of course. Dell would make colourful foldout instructions for whatever Distro they choose. Dell would make drivers specificly for the distro they choose. Just like they did with RedHat on the server OSs (try getting OpenManage to run on other distros... hell in a handbasket).

        So I'd say this again- if Dell were to pic
    • by Aspirator (862748) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:14AM (#14874481)
      I don't see what is incompatible between the various Linux disros at the hardware level.

      As long as all the hardware in a computer has linux drivers (preferably open source, but
      I'll live with things like Nvidia's drivers), then any version of linux with a suitably
      recent kernel (i.e any current distro) will work with the hardware.

      Any incompatibility between the distros is a result of different file structure etc.,
      this isn't a Linux (i.e. kernel) issue.

      When I buy a budget computer from Dell I feel that I am gambing on the hardware being
      operable under Linux (and I've lucked out so far).
    • I'd prefer Ubuntu too if I were Mr. Dell. I've used Redhat and Mandrake. But the risk of sounding like a troll, Ubuntu's probably the closest distro to matching Windows' "just-works" usability. Scalable in features so that it can work for a total Linux newbie to a moderately hardened nux veteran. Well, Dell can make its own distro, but why reinvent the wheel? They can just customize Ubuntu. (They'll also be leveraging each other, but that's another story.)

      Dubuntu anyone?
    • by porkThreeWays (895269) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:33AM (#14874624)
      I have never understood this attitude. Out of the hundreds of distros out there, most of them can be traced back to four bloodlines. Debian, Red Hat, Gentoo, and Slackware. The first two of those making up at least 80% of distributions out there. Most distributions are specialized for a specific task. i.e. embedded, scientific, education, data recovery, gaming, firewall, etc. etc. They are _really_ good at one task. However, for most people, they can ignore 99% of them because what they want is a general purpose distro. For an average consumer, that choice can be narrowed down to 3 or 4 of the best. Suse, Ubuntu, Fedora, and Mandriva. It's not unreasonable to say to the consumer "here are your choices". All four are very high quality distributions and are really only going to differ in eye candy (all of which have very good eye candy anyway). Your choice for Linux as an average consumer isn't as scary as people make it out to be.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      On the contrary, Dell should choose the Linux distribution that they think best suits their purpose. If distribution X feels hard done by because Dell have chosen Y, then they should do what they can to remedy what Dell sees as their deficiencies. It's called "competition".

      Do they also sell PCs without hard disks, to avoid alienating certain hard disk manufacturers?
    • by griffjon (14945)
      Yeah, 'cause Red Hat certainly became the best Linux version when it was reasonably far out in the lead.

      The strength of Linux is that it's not a monopoly system like Microsoft. There are lots of options depending on what exactly you're looking to do. Dell should figure out what most users of their desktop systems want out of their computers (Corp/Govt vs Home Office vs Gamers) and choose (K)Ubuntu^H^H^H^H^H^Ha distro or three that best support those needs, in a way not dissimilar to Windows product lines,
    • Nobody who takes more than a second to think about this is going to believe that partisans of a particular Linux distro are going to be more offended by Dell chosing the wrong distro than Dell not offering Linux support at all. For one thing Linux support for one distro would be driver support.

      In fact, it's hard to believe that Dell cares what Linux partisans of various stripes think at all. While they probably do sell the odd machine to evangelists and hobbyists, those people can be counted on to customi
  • The guy makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inode_buddha (576844) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:02AM (#14874406) Journal
    The guy makes sense, IMHO. After all, how many times have you seen slashdotters whining about various installers and packages, etc? As far as standardizing the core system, that's what the LSB is for, and POSIX to some extent.
    • I also immediately thought of the Linux Standard Base. Unfortunately, that relies on rpm (which Ubuntu (and others) don't use by default, but which can be supported if certain packages are installed).

      I don't see what would be so bad if Dell started doing what a lot of software companies do--support the biggest few (Red Hat and/or SUSE). Hobbyists will be happy knowing the hardware works with SOME distro. If Dell finds it economically feasible, they can add support for other distros (possibly even as some
  • by astrashe (7452) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:04AM (#14874413) Journal
    I don't need Dell to support linux in the traditional sense. And I don't even need them to sell me a PC that doesn't have windows.

    All I want from Dell is a commmittment to ship hardware for which open source drivers are available -- for them to say, for example, we need open source audio drivers or we won't ue your soundcard/integrated chipset, or your graphics chipset, or whatever. If Dell leaned on vendors, they'd give open source developers the info they need to support their products.

    The not having to pay for windows thing is tricky, and I know it bugs a lot of people. I understand why. But for me the bottom line is that I just want stuff to work, and a Dell with a windows license is still a good machine at a good price, even if you don't use the license.

    It would be cool if Dell could make sure that dual boot people could reinstall windows in a differently sized partition, though -- if they could make sure that you get the installation CDs or whatever else you need to do that. I haven't really been following things, but I hear that some people get machines with ghost backups of windows instead of a real install CD. That sort of thing is a problem from a practical point of view for a linux guy who wants the ability to dual boot.

    • Good for you (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Leadmagnet (685892) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:08AM (#14874440) Homepage
      Thats good for you. But for the other 98% of the population want a PC that is already up and running with all the apps, drivers, and configuration set. So it's the much larger market that Dell will chase to sell too. The real money is in companies that buy 20,000 identical systems with a huge service contract. Not us computer geeks that tend to build our own anyways.
    • Right on the money (Score:5, Interesting)

      by QuaintRealist (905302) * <quaintrealist@NOSPAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:13AM (#14874473) Homepage Journal
      You hit it right on the head. Having Dell push hardware manufacturers to support FOSS would be a great boost for Linux. Having them try to "standardize" the Linux world would be a complete failure, and worthless to boot.

      And you have heard correctly - most new systems don't come with a full install CD anymore (I buy for a medical practice). Now, you get either a "recovery" CD (most of which wipe your partitioning) or the aforementioned ghost partition (usually with an option to burn a CD backup).

      It was one of the things which helped me sell Linux to the practice, when we had to buy an off-the-shelf copy of Win XP for a machine (which came with Win XP) that took an unexplained OS crap and couldn't be retored from the partition.
    • by danielk1982 (868580) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:59AM (#14874864)
      All I want from Dell is a commmittment to ship hardware for which open source drivers are available

      All I want is drivers period. Proprietary is fine with me.
    • I can certainly understand Michael Dell's reluctance to support a linux distro -
      ANY linux distro. It is not just the Average Joe User who buys his shiny new
      Dell on-line (consumer grade machine) that is a Dell Computer support issue.
      As someone who has deployed Dell servers and (corporate) workstations for
      a large defense contractor, I can tell you that OEM's (not just Dell) have a huge
      problem delivering a single shipment of computers with the same hardware.
      Unlike the good old days, motherboards, video cards,
    • by Alef (605149)

      It would be cool if Dell could make sure that dual boot people could reinstall windows in a differently sized partition, though -- if they could make sure that you get the installation CDs or whatever else you need to do that. I haven't really been following things, but I hear that some people get machines with ghost backups of windows instead of a real install CD. That sort of thing is a problem from a practical point of view for a linux guy who wants the ability to dual boot.

      I am writing this running Ge

  • Why don't they...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cosmotron (900510) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:05AM (#14874422) Homepage Journal
    Why don't they just make their own distro using something such as Linux From Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org]? THey have enough money to create an entire Linux division in their corporation.
    • by deragon (112986) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:10AM (#14874455) Homepage Journal
      Mmm... maybe because there is no business case for this? They would not recover their investement?
    • I think a lot of this is because they don't want to be in the OS business. Regardless, if they made Dell Linux, they would have to support it. They want another company doing that for them, such as Red Hat or Novell.

      What Dell is saying is true though, There needs to be a convergence of sorts. Some sort of standard business installation that all distros have as an install option. This Installation would need to be Standardized and Certified by some non-profit board to ensure that no distro deviates from this
  • by MarsDude (74832) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:05AM (#14874426) Homepage
    Just test your hardware on 1 or 2 distro's, make mention of that, and give people the option to buy a dell pc without an OS. Now you not only alienate large sections that don't want that linux distro you sell on your pc... but the whole group that doesn't want windows
  • What he'd really like to see, is for the popular Linux distros to converge on a common core platform

    Does this mean that if they released this common core platform, will it be labeled as a 'monopoly'? Or, rather the most functional and easy to use of the Linux distros?
  • I thought part of doing business is about making the right (highly subjective) decisions at the right time. This is just another decision that they will have to make. They could have chosen to install a selected few distros depending of the type of computers. Debian on a server, or maybe strike a deal with Red Hat or Novell and install RHEL or SuSE. On the desktop, they could have installed Ubuntu or Mandriva. But hey, if they like to install something else instead, that's a good thing! It will still a sta
  • by Jerk City Troll (661616) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14874446) Homepage

    What he'd really like to see, is for the popular Linux distros to converge on a common core platform, according to the article.

    Ultimately, all mainstream Linux distributions could derive from the same basic base (with the exception of those which try to fit Linux in tight places, for example). There is no reason that RedHat, SuSE, Debian, et al have to have so many differences beneath user-space software. (Consider the wildly different boot-time initialization scripts in each of those distributions. Ironically, there is a modular system in place.) Consolidate the similarities and expand by extensions which do not eliminate cross “distro” compatibility. There are already efforts [autopackage.org] to this effect. This is no magic bullet for any particular problem, but it will help eliminate the throat-cutting within the community and encourage computer manufacturers like Dell to offer Linux solutions.

    • There is no reason that RedHat, SuSE, Debian, et al have to have so many differences beneath user-space software.
      There is... It's called choice. It's not a familiar concept in today's monopolist market though...
      • Oh come off this nonsense. This is not about elimating choice, this is about practical reality. It does not make sense to try to support a product across so many distributions that are fundamentally the same operating system. All features that users are interested in exist in, quite intuitively, user space. They do not care what the init scripts are doing or what kernel they are running. Not a single user noticed Apple's transition from BSDi to FreeBSD 5 when they released Panther and that is prec

  • by Dekortage (697532) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:09AM (#14874448) Homepage

    From the article: "People are always asking us to support Linux on the desktop, but the question is: 'Which Linux are you talking about?'"

    Dell does a pretty good job of supporting different versions of Windows (at least 98, NT, ME, 2K, XP). "Support" really means "drivers that work with our hardware" -- they could easily sell Linux without providing software support. I'm sure one of the bigger Linux distros (Red Hat if nobody else) would be happy to team up with them for a co-branded/co-marketed PC.

    • by Dekortage (697532) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:12AM (#14874468) Homepage

      Err, duh. RTFA instead of just the opening. Where Dell does offer a desktop computer with Linux is in its Dell Precision nSeries low-end workstation line. These come with RHEL WS 4 (Red Hat Enterprise Linux workstation 4) preinstalled.

      ...and...

      However, he also said, "We've had number of communications with Ubuntu. Most of those have been about giving Ubuntu better driver support, but we're open to all those things."

      So apologies for the KJR (knee jerk reaction), but still: the question is hardware driver support.

  • I don't buy it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubjames (468013) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:10AM (#14874456)
    Dell is a clever guy. In this article, I think he is just giving his best response to keep the Linux guys happy. Does anyone really believe him when he says ""Microsoft has not talked to us about Linux. If they did, I wouldn't care. It's none of their business."? Sorry, I don't believe that for a second. Companies have to go through rounds of negociation with Microsoft, re who much they are going to pay, joint marketing etc. He's saying Linux never comes up in these negociations?

    The fact is, Dell is the one company that could make Linux on the desktop happen, if they wanted to.
    • I have to disagree. One of the major things that keeps me on Windows is the availability of gaming software. Dell might offer linux systems, BSD systems, Be OS systems, or OS/X systems and I would still need to have a large windows partition so I could use entertainment software.
  • Compromise (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AviLazar (741826)
    How about you sell a computer with the drivers only, and let the user decide what OS to install? If he wants Windows, he can buy it from Dell (and probably get it at the cheaper price since he is buying it with a computer) and if he wants Linux he can download whatever. You just have the disclaimer "buy one of our computers without an OS from us and we cannot give you software support".
    • Re:Compromise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jav1231 (539129) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:26AM (#14874568)
      Which drivers? I've seen WiFi drivers work on one distro and not another. I've seen them work in one version of say SuSE only to fail to work on upgraded versions. The kernel has a lot to do with what works. I'm all for Dell supporting the hardware but they would have to provide several versions of the same driver to make this happen. Like or not, he has a point. He might be using it as an excuse, which is another matter, but he makes a valid point. You can't bitch about Linux not being on the desktop when there are such varying varieties. I'm a huge Linux fan and have used it since about '99 or so. Yet, the Gnome/KDE wars along with the "this distro does X and this does Y" is both a great feature and a sticking point.
  • by hysma (546540)
    After buying a Dell Inspiron 600m sometime in the summer I figured what the heck and installed Fedora Core on it. A few months down the road I've managed to get everything (including SPDIF out, TV-out, WLAN, suspend to ram) working. The only thing I haven't had a chance to play with is hot dock and undocking. If I want to either dock or undock, everything must be shut off and rebooted...anything else ends up freezing the system.

    Having said that it seems perfectly Dell compatable... would just be nice if
    • by Zoidbergo (751725) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:31AM (#14874614) Homepage
      A few months down the road I've managed to get everything (including SPDIF out, TV-out, WLAN, suspend to ram) working.

      And that's the core of the problem. 99% of users don't care enough to spend a "few months" just to get digital sound and wireless access. I just bought a mac Mini, and I had my wireless and digital sound working right out of the box (it might not be a fair comparison driver-wise but it at least shows that Unix can be an excellent desktop OS). It's those 99% of users you are targeting when you go after the desktop market. When I got FC1, (I know it's been a while), it took me 8 hours to get my wireless card working and I learned 20 different things in the process. I didn't mind it, but most users shouldn't have to care about such things. And just based on that, I don't think i'd be able to recommend Linux to anyone non-geeky for a while. (I've used Ubuntu as recently as last year and was pretty impressed, but still is nowhere near where it has to be.)

      I've had one harddrive completely die (replaced next day), but now I have bad sectors and htey won't help me because I'm running an unsupported OS.

      And that is perfectly acceptable. Why should they have to waste their time diagnosing something unless they are absolutely 100% sure that some driver in some Linux distro that they don't know about could've caused your hard drive to overwork itself and get corrupted... (it's a possibility.) It would be unfair to other users who are running "supported" software. That's why you're a Linux geek, you are probably fine with spending 20 hours diagnosing hard drive sectors.
    • by grub (11606)

      That's weird, we buy Dell all the time for desktops. A fair number of the "os-less" ones, too, for Linux and OpenBSD. Have had a few die over the past while with bad caps on the board (whole different story) and Dell has never refused a claim.
  • stick to the most common chipsets, then all linuxes would run on them.
  • > popular Linux distros to converge on a common core platform

    UnitedLinux ? (*)
    Linux Core Consortium ?
    Progeny ?

    Can you find more ?

    (*) Dead, I know.
  • by malsdavis (542216) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:18AM (#14874511)
    Why hasn't anyone thought of that before?

    We could call it the Linux Standards Base or something like that.

  • What is the best distro?

    Now here is the restrictions:
    Must be the easiest to install and use, based on someone who has ZERO experience with Linux, but has experience with Windows. So this probably means it has to be GUI based. Then work with the most amount of applications out there.
    • Consider this. Linux has support for LOADS of filesystems. Windows? Just a few. Most Windows users would immediately see the many fs options they could choose from, and have a panic attack. I sure as hell did my first time with Linux. I didn't know whether or not to use ReiserFS or what! Even with a GUI installer, most Windows users, I think, would shake their heads and go back to simplicity.
  • drivers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by towsonu2003 (928663) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:24AM (#14874559)
    just provide the drivers... the community will deal with the rest...
    • Re:drivers (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stevyn (691306)
      Drivers to what? How many components in a PC does dell design and manufacter. They buy a bunch of components, throw them in a box, and wrap a guarantee around it. Currently, it's not in their interests to sell PCs loaded with linux because not enough customers are demanding it.
  • by tjwhaynes (114792) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:28AM (#14874595)
    I think Dell could quite easily take chance and actually stick a properly configured Linux machine out there. And it is not enough to just have a machine available if you can navigate into the deepest areas of the Dell website - it needs to be visible when you are picking out a workstation, a desktop or a laptop.

    This question of "which distro" is a misleading one. Pick one that you think will meet the needs of your customers. Ubuntu is a nice fit for home machines and laptops. Dell already has some enterprise Linux machines out there so they could easily offer a choice of Ubuntu or Enterprise on workstations and servers. Once one distro works on a Dell machine, the likelihood is that any other distro of choice will also work. All this talk of fragmentation in the Linux distros misses the important point that open source is more about source-level compatibility than binary compatibility. As long as software can be compiled successfully on a Linux distro, it can be used.

    It is also important to track the latest stable release. If Dell produced Ubuntu-configured machines, it should attempt to make sure that the version is current with the latest stable release. This would also encourage hardware manufacturers to provide Dell with Linux-supported hardware and that might in turn help increase the number of devices that have linux support. Wireless networking is a key area where support is tricky.

    Cheers,
    Toby Haynes

  • by October_30th (531777) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:29AM (#14874603) Homepage Journal
    Common core platform for Linux will never happen. Developers and the core user community are too afraid of standardization - just see what's holding Linux desktop GUI back: there is no standard GUI (at least when it comes to widgets, menus, style and configuration) in the same way as on Mac. Why is there no standardized desktop? Because developers and the core user community abhor any idea of such a lockdown that limits their ability to tweak the system. Imagine a situation like this: "That's a fine application there, Mr. Developer, but its user interface doesn't conform to the distribution regulations and hence we cannot include it in the distro". It's exactly the same thing with distros.
  • by Jivha (842251) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:30AM (#14874610)
    I think Michael Dell's, as well as other wannabe-Linux users desires to see Linux converge into one single platform are not going to happen anytime soon. In fact, I don't think it even matters at all too.

    Linux and most open-source software are by nature a federated, bottom-up form of software development where multiple versions abound. This is because there is no one single entity(person or corporation) who knows which features are best for users, *and* the best way for those to be implemented. Hence forks abound which allows users, aka the free market, to decide which versions/software suit their own requirement. Compare this to proprietary software where the corporation decides which features you want, when you want them and in what form you want them.

    Waiting for Linux to converge into a single platform with a market share >80% would imply that other versions have failed to see what users desire, and one company(or group of individuals) has been able to capitalize on that and advance its market share.

    Now Ubuntu(I use that myself) has to an extent been reading what lay users desire from a distro and implementing many of their needs well. But as Ubuntu becomes more popular are other distros going to sit still watching it reap all the laurels? I don't think so. They will evolve too. If you think that isn't possible then ask yourself how the hell Ubuntu managed to gain so much in the last couple of years? Do you think such innovation will stop after Ubuntu?

    Finally, imho lay-users are not going to want to switch to Linux in the near-term. Because switching an OS for them represents a huge task which they will undertake only if:
    1. They are thouroughly dissatisfied with Windows, or
    2. They are thouroughly enamoured by the benefits that Linux offers

    Unlike what we may all think, on the whole most people are not thouroughly dissatisfied with Windows. Sure they may have to deal with patchy security and those occasional crashes but hey, who says Linux doesn't have issues? I've had Ubuntu lock up on me more than a few times. I've spent a better part of the first month trying to get streaming videos to play on Firefox. Did I quit? No...so why would a Windows user?

    To sum up, expecting Linux to converge into a super-distro isn't going to happen. Simply because open-source by nature is designed against the formation of monopolies. Since code upto a certain point is freely available to all, a new fork can be established by a brighter, more innovative, more responsive group in much lesser time than in the prop. s/w market. So an 80%+ distro would mean that nobody else read the market and changed course.
  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:31AM (#14874616)
    What's so difficult to understand about that?
  • by layer3switch (783864) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:32AM (#14874620)
    "If the Linux desktops could converge at their cores, such a common platform would make it easier to support. Or, if there was a leading or highly preferred version that a majority of users would want, we'd preload it."

    For a company which has been supplying $300 low end machines with scrap hardware and shady driver, this doesn't make much sense to me. Even with failed venture in Linux market with Red Hat back in 2001, I don't ever recall Dell ever putting any effort in supporting customers half way decent.

    Sure, they had "support Red Hat and SuSE or United Linux" logo. And because of that, Dell's association with so called "leading or highly preferred version", it treated Linux as an OS, not a kernel. and when someone states "I support Linux" normally you don't convertly support only "some portion" of GNU/Linux distro, but work with Linux kernel developers with half way decent driver support so that EVERY distro can benefit from it.

    Even today, Michael Dell either can't see it or is too naive. One would think, Dell had learned their lesson and support Linux kernel developement and community and not "leading or highly preferred version" distros. However this goes to show, Dell didn't.
  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:33AM (#14874626)
    Like it or not, the reason Microsoft has a foothold on the desktop market is because of its relative ease of use. A worker or home user can by taught the basics of checking their e-mail, writing documents, etc. in Windows and Office via memorization. They learned Office 95 back in the day, that training investment carries over to the latest version with just a few add-ons. If you really want to see how seriously important backward-compatible trainng is, turn on the "blue screen, white text" feature in Word as well as the WordPerfect compatible function key layouts. Or the "slash" menu in Excel for hardcore Lotus 1-2-3 users. Microsoft knows they have the lock because of this. Mac OS X, for example, is much easier to control centrally than Windows is, but no one switches to it because their staff is used to Windows. Even if Office si a work-alike, relearning keyboard shortcuts and other tricks is time-consuming.

    Companies do not want to invest money retraining their staff. It was hard enough getting them to learn MS Office or WordPerfect the first time. There are a few things that need to happen before Linux makes a big push for the corporate desktop:
    -- Make it "just work." Windows' big strength is that I can go to CompUSA, buy any old crappy piece of hardware, plug it in, and have it work without having to load kernel modules, edit config files, etc.
    -- Standardize it. Pick an office suite. Pick a window manager. Pick _a few_ of the hundreds of obscure GNU applications and bundle them as a standard tool set. Wrap in some administration and deployment tools that are brain-dead simple to use. No normal user wants three office suites, four window managers, etc.
    -- Completely hide the guts from the end user unless they want to see it. Mac OS does a great job of this. I have the command line and access to the config files if I want it, but the GUI is more than adequate to tweak most items.

    Dell's other big market is home users. The same rules apply, just more so. Home users do not have the patience to learn Linux internals. My advice would be to start with an Ubuntu-like base, and go to work making the OS just work for normal users.
  • Self-fulfilling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ribuck (943217) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:33AM (#14874628) Homepage
    What [Michael Dell would] really like to see, is for the popular Linux distros to converge on a common core platform

    If Dell starts shipping every box with some Linux distro, that distro will immediately become the "common core platform".

    • Re:Self-fulfilling (Score:3, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680)
      If Dell starts shipping every box with some Linux distro, that distro will immediately become the "common core platform".

      How many Linux boxes do you really think are going to sell? I don't see why slashdotters are even concerned...

      Practically every one of you scoff at the "off the shelf" system and don't currently support the prebuilt system. Are you telling me that if Dell offers some random Linux distro you're really going to buy it to put your own favorite distro on it?

      I don't think dell can win this
      • Re:Self-fulfilling (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PitaBred (632671)
        If they shipped laptops with performance features (NVidia/ATI cards, fast dual-core processors) and Linux-compatible native hardware, I'd really look at them. I think a lot of other /.ers would as well. I don't really fancy building my own laptop.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:05AM (#14874916) Homepage
    He's basically saying it's Linux fault they're not offering it. Here's a thought, Mikey, let users selecting Linux as their OS purchase an optional support contract. Then you can farm it out to a group that knows what they're doing and skim a cut off the top. Now you don't have to support any Linux distro and still give users a choice. If you have to put out any meager effort at all it will be getting the hardware makers to supply Linux drivers. But I'm guessing you make them do that anyway.

    Your service hasn't been worth much since about 2001, so it's no big loss for the user. Then you can stop making bad excuses for not wanting to offer Linux because MSFT will find a way to raise your OEM license costs if you do.

  • by dozer (30790) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:10AM (#14874957)
    Dell is still clearly thinking in terms of large, impenetrable operating systems. Choosing which Windows operating system to install (ME? XP? 2003 Pro? etc,) is critical. The wrong choice will sink a line of computers.

    So, what Linux operating system to pick? It doesn't matter! Choose whatever distro you think you can support the best. Preinstall Weezix (distro maintained by George Jefferson's wife) for all I care. If you can show me Weezix running, drivers and all, that means that I can copy the config to my distro of choice. Yes, that takes some expertise. But there are tons of people with that sort of expertise nowadays.

    And here's the kicker: within two months, step-by-step instructions will appear on the forums and wikis of the major distros. Within six months, most distros will automatically support that machine out-of-the-box.

    It doesn't matter which one you choose, it only matters that you choose! Though you can make everybody's lives a lot easier by selecting hardware with open source drivers. Too bad about the graphics card situation...

  • What a bunch of BS! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaoudaW (533025) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:34AM (#14875194)
    "If you look at DistroWatch, you'll see zillions of these distributions. Which one should we do? And, everyone keeps telling us that they want different distributions. So, our conclusion is to do them all and let the customer decide."

    We love Linux, and we're doing our best to support the Linux community.

    Mr. Dell,

    Please put your products where your mouth is. If you are so supportive of Linux, please put your suppliers on notice that you will not buy from them without Linux drivers, please design and promote your full line of PCs as "Linux ready", provide strong customer support for 3 or 4 distros (they really aren't that different under the hood) and please, oh please, sell them at a price that doesn't include an M$ tax.

    Still waiting after all these years.
  • their own DelLinux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wwwillem (253720) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:42AM (#14875309) Homepage
    So, if Dell doesn't want to favour a specific distro, would it be too tough and expensive for them to simply create their own? Having a DelLinux distro, would also give them a great opportunity for branding, marketing, etc. This even wouldn't have to be "the greatest distro ever", as long as it would serve the majority of Dell's customers, which are anyway not the hardcore Linux hackers.

    I know, I know, to start such a thing is easy, but to keep it updated is going to cost _real_ money. But they can outsource that to their folks in India, or wherever.

  • by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:26PM (#14877613) Homepage
    So, Dell's competitors seem to have no problem adapting to the market, but Michael Dell somehow wants the market to change for him.

    I can tell you right now that the Debian folks aren't going to suddenly drop everything they're doing any time soon. Ubuntu might get folded back into Debian, but that's a long way away, and I wouldn't bet on it. The same thing goes for Knoppix. It's even less likely for Linspire, because it's sold by a for-profit company.

    And those are just the Debian-based distros, for whom it would probably be technically easiest to merge. What about SuSE (Novell), Fedora/Red Hat, Gentoo? Do you think they will merge with each other?

    News flash: If Michael Dell doesn't want to serve the *actual* market, instead of some fantasy market in his head, I'm sure his competitors will be glad!

  • Already happened (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Baloo Ursidae (29355) <dead@address.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:18PM (#14878590) Journal
    But distros already have standardized on a unified core: Debian. Ubuntu, Knoppix, Debian itself, and many others use the same Debian core and can use each other's packages with far greater success than the RPM folks could imagine in their wildest wet dreams..

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