An open letter to Dell regarding Ubuntu, or “go big or go home”

Dear Dell,

I know that in the past you have offered a handful of paltry Ubuntu options, though I confess I don’t understand why you bothered at all.

With the exception of your two netbook offerings, I have yet to have seen you offer anything else that indicates to me that you have any intentions to make Ubuntu a real option for your customers.

Oh, I know… for a while you offered Ubuntu on your Inspiron 15n laptop, and there was even an XPS M1330 notebook for a brief time available on your website.

But both of those were very limited in what was available for CPU options and RAM upgrades. Even the desktop option you offered for a little while was an underpowered, unimpressive castoff compared to what’s available elsewhere on Dell.com.


And now? Well, now there’s even less to look at when it comes to Ubuntu on Dell.com.

To quote what I see right there on your Ubuntu page,

Now shipping with Ubuntu 9.10 on select systems

By “select systems” you mean the following, based on what’s showing up there:

  • Two netbooks
  • The Vostro V13, an underpowered semi-netbook that, frankly, is a joke
  • The Latitude 2100, which is also a netbook

That’s it? Really?

“But there isn’t that much demand for Ubuntu!”, I can almost hear you saying.

Well let’s see here. You bury it on your site. You offer nothing but garbage for computers available with Ubuntu — as compared to ones available with Windows.

I guess I can’t say I’m surprised if your Ubuntu sales are slow. In fact, I’d be surprised if you sell anything at all, the way you’re going about it.

Here’s my advice. This is going to sound a bit elitist here, but I’ve been computer shopping lately and that puts me in a snarky mood, so deal.

You have two options, the way I see it:

1. Just give up already

Seriously. You’re not impressing anyone with token Linux offerings. Anyone Linux-savvy enough to actually be looking for (much less FIND) the buried Ubuntu products on your site will be insulted by what they find there, and simply move on to something else, where they won’t be treated to lip service and garbage that even most Windows users wouldn’t bother giving a second look, hardware-wise.

2. Offer Ubuntu on computers comparable to your Windows 7 machines

Go big or go home, guys. Token marketing to a tech-savvy niche is an instaFAIL, but if you actually put your money where your mouth is, you’ll win Hearts And Minds, and significantly less criticism from the Open Source community, for what that’s worth.

Besides, considering the lack of the Windows Tax, comparable hardware with Ubuntu means customers might notice that they can buy non-Windows computers for a couple hundred dollars LESS, which means they might buy more of the accessories you’re always pimping with any machine on your site.

Seriously though, what you have currently and in the past is mostly just insulting. Either dump Ubuntu entirely, or get serious about it.

Sorry, guys, but somebody had to say it. You’re not doing yourself any favors with this.

Thanks,

Trent

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53 thoughts on “An open letter to Dell regarding Ubuntu, or “go big or go home”

  1. I agree. What Dell is doing now makes no sense.

    If Ubuntu options aren’t profitable, make them profitable, or don’t make them at all.

    Not only does Dell hide the options and make the options terrible, but Dell also prices the Ubuntu options more expensively than comparable Windows options and warns people away from Ubuntu.

    Can you imagine the first thing you see on the Apple Store website being…?

    Not sure Mac OS X is for You?
    The main thing to note is that when you choose Mac OS X you don’t get a Windows® operating system. If you’re here by mistake and you are looking for a PC with Windows, please use the following link.

    I’m sure their marketing department would have a heart attack.

  2. Agree. As ALL HARDWARE MANUFACTURERS, which are blackmailed by Microsoft, ALL OF THEM HAVE DUMPED LINUX (Acer, Asus, DELL).
    GO TO LINUX-ONLY VENDORS, LET’S MAKE THEM BIG: zareason, system76, etc.
    Let’s take it into our own hands.

    • Which is exactly what I’ll be doing. I’m buying a new laptop next month, and I have around $1200 that I’m willing to spend, and none of that is going to Dell. At the moment I’m leaning toward Zareason.

  3. I think the whole Linux (Ubuntu) thing is a big marketing analysis. I mean when I try to browse through Dells site and trying to buy Linux I always end up with M$ OS !!!

  4. It’s not Dell’s fault; they are very much lockedin by Microsoft. I t doesn’t matter what Dell wants – if MS won’t give them the OEM OS systems, than Dell is finished. I’m suprised they have been offering Ubuntu at all.

    • Not true. M$ exists because the big guys carry their [lame] product. M$ can try to bully them, but even retail OEM Windblows licenses are cheap. I doubt the discount is much more than 20% off the retail OEM price.

      -About the article: Thanks for saying it. It needs to be said and heard.

  5. Tell it like it is Trent. Dell’s offerings are pathetic, nothing more than a token offer to Ubuntu. It makes me wonder how hard Microsoft is putting the squeeze on Dell to keep the Linux OS off certain products.

  6. Insulting is truly the only way to put it, I will be buying a new computer this year, will I bother looking at Dell’s offerings?, I certainly won’t, because I have done it in the past, and, it is insulting to see the sort of machines that Dell offers with Ubuntu, I am currently looking at system76 myself.

  7. Here is a hypothetic phone call which might have happened some years ago – Bill Gates phoning Michael Dell:
    “Listen, Michael, we need a well publicized failure of Linux on a well known PC brand. Do you think you can take care of it? You will get some very attractive conditions for Windows. Just do what we tell you.”

  8. I have the impression the reason for the Windows options being cheaper than their Linux counterparts is because the Windows systems are being subsidized by all the crapware they’re bundling with the Windows machines. ANd I don’t think they’ll ever admit to that, because the fallout from publicly admitting that could be much worse than what their getting with their half-hearted Linux options. If they had to price their Windows machines at *real* cost, I think their overall sales would plummet.

  9. waaah! waaah!

    I want more!

    For only have a paltry 1% of the desktop Linux users sure are a whiny breed.

    • Heh, true enough, frank.

      But if there were more and better options, there might be quite a bit more than just a paltry 1% of us using Linux on the desktop.

      The lack of any meaningful Linux offerings by major OEMs is widely considered to be the last big hurdle to widespread adoption of things like Ubuntu by the average user out there.

      • As a PC retailer as well as repairman Trent I may be able to enlighten you as to why Dell avoids Linux. It is probably the same reason I myself won’t seel Linux machines. It is called “The Walmart Problem”. You see, if you walk into the local supercenter you will find that “maybe” 30% of the hardware is supported, if by supported you count 3 pages of CLI gibberish that often has to be “tweaked” by the user to work, which I don’t. Remove that and you are looking at about 20%. Now quick, without doing research, can you tell me, just by looking at the boxes, what works and what don’t?

        You can’t, can you? You can’t, I can’t, and that kid working minimum wage sure as heck don’t know either. Linux guys need to accept the masses are NOTHING like them, they don’t do CLI, they don’t read man pages, they don’t do research. They walk into a B&M store and go “ooohhh…sale!” and put it into the cart. Know how much of the hardware at Walmart works with Linux? 100%, and that is for XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. So by selling windows only I cut my aftermarket support by a bunch, my returns a good 400%, and thus my profits go up. It is simple really, a good 95.999% of the general pop have no IT experience and no desire to learn, and THAT is who Dell is making their money off of, NOT you.

        • So basically, summed up, “Windows sucks but we make a ton of money supporting it” is your response?

          Well, considering what I do for a living, I can’t dispute that.

  10. I have to agree with you. When I was looking to buy a desktop just over a year ago, I would have preferred to buy one with Linux pre-installed, and looked at what Dell had to offer first, and decided to go elsewhere. Why Ubuntu can’t be offered on most of their machines is a mystery (well not really a mystery thanks to MS and their anti-competitive deals). In fact I have a problem with most computer retailers not offering their products without Windows. The lack of choices the general public is given is disgusting.

  11. I want macbook pro quality and power running linux. Dell seems scared to do it. Actually Apple macbook pro are lagging… still only dual core. I made the switch to Mac’s about 4 years ago. Since then no windows… one linux netbook. Can’t even find those anymore. Whats worse then a monopoly ? answer… two monopolies microsoft and apple. Come on Dell… Alienware Laptop running Linux perfectly.

  12. So I caved in and ordered a Macbook Pro 17″ yesterday. Obviously, I will be running Linux in Virtualbox on that machine, but, seriously, I am getting tired of paying for an unused MS Windows every time I buy hardware. This Linux discussion has been going on since I started using Linux back in 1997. I may go back to a Linux only machine when I can, easily, buy decent hardware without paying the Microsoft tax. And it won’t be Dell, that’s for sure. More like Asus or Acer.

  13. Hey it is such a joke at Dell that a friend tried to order a windows machine with the configuration that he wanted and bang when he said to the order taker now just have Ubuntu put on it that was the end of the order!!!! His money was no good. I fact the order taker was playing hold on let me get a manager while telling him how much better he would be served with windows! The final answer was you can buy the computer and put in Linux yourself but that will void your warranty. Nice Linux support Dell. System 76 looks good!!!

    • I need a warranty for what? Most of the hardware is common amongst all the makers.
      I just installed sidux on a HP DV7 series laptop.
      I can do my own hardware replacement and RMA’s.
      I am writing this from a old Gateway base running a P4 2.4 with 512, KDE4+ kernel 2.6.34+
      I use apt-get, and a bash script to handle my initial package management. And I use the Debian Repo’s directly.
      But thats another discussion, and hopefully a article to be written about on this site.
      *buntu’s are ok.
      linux users whining? we can chuckle because we don’t have to chase av/mal/spy-ware updates, Service Packs (Patches), defrag and corrupt registry issue’s.
      If everybody ran *nix/*BSD many IT people and support staff would have no jobs. But yes, it would be nice to see the Evil Redmond Empire fall.
      Give me my old hardware. I don’t want a iDevice or a Mikro$haft closed source anything.
      Hoo RAH for Chrome OS and *Droid… :D lol
      I will be watching as Acer+Google has their release.

  14. I got a Dell Latitude e6500, it runs Linux Mint just fine. If it voids my warranty who gives a rat’s ass, I pulled the OEM HD before I even powered it up.


    • I got a Dell Latitude e6500, it runs Linux Mint just fine. If it voids my warranty who gives a rat’s ass, I pulled the OEM HD before I even powered it up.

      Well that’s not really the point, is it? I can get Linux Mint working on any hardware on which I’ve tried it. And I don’t care thing one about any kind of warranty.

      But I’d rather not have to pay $150-$200 for a Windows license I’ll never use.

      I will never, ever purchase a computer for personal use that has Windows on it again. I won’t support vendors who sell ONLY Windows on computers. I’d like to support Dell in their Ubuntu ventures, but since they don’t seem to be serious about it, I’d rather spend my money elsewhere, with a vendor that actually puts some effort into it.

      • You can always do a “laptop no os” search on pricewatch.com, I founld two listings right off for Dells w/o an OS.

  15. I just built two machines from New Egg using similar hardware to one of Dells “deals”. I will not pay the MS tax anymore. I guess that means that Dell didn’t get my money either. I for one am not feeding the beast any longer.

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  17. its too bad though. About 9 months ago I got a Dell 1545n with ubuntu on it for 300 dollars. Its was a smoking deal at the time. I ended up putting more ram and a larger harddrive in it which added to the cost but I am not complaining. It works great for me with 9.10 on it.
    I don’t remember how I even found it on their website. Its like they want to sell Linux but then they bury it out of site. It is really a pain to find. I like Dell products and have used quite a few Dell machines over the years. Overall I think they make good stuff. And they did a fine job with the 1545n.

    What holds them back from really going forward with linux?

  18. Dell should leave the sales of ubuntu dell computers to specialized retailers in order to get better service for the customers.I would be glad to sell dell computers with ubuntu and drop ship them to the customer.

  19. The big deal is the Microsoft Tax.

    If you go to Lenovo’s workstation offerings, if you look around enough, you can find that they offer desktop workstations either with Windows 7 or with no OS whatsoever, but which are otherwise identical. The difference in price is $150. So if you buy a Dell (or any other brand) with the intention of removing Windows and putting Linux (or FreeBSD or Solaris or something else) on, you’re throwing money away.

    • Workstations are even easier to find via pricewatch.com w/o an OS than laptops.
      This one I am writing from comes from salvaged workstation’s.
      Yes, it would be nice to have a newer system core to do faster transcoding. My only expense was finding all the functional parts.
      They call it junk due to their dependancies.

  20. I have built all of my own Linux desktops for years, precisely because of the attitude of large vendors like Dell.

    When I need a Linux laptop, unfortunately, the best price value for hardware is frequently found with one of this “Better With M$” vendors mentioned previously: Acer, Asus, HP, Dell. I just went ahead and installed Kubuntu on the last three laptops I bought, without even booting whatever Windows flavor it came with.

  21. BTW, I just posted a link to this story on Dell’s Facebook “Fan” page — it’s a great way to get their attention.

  22. The real issue here is that Linux users are irked having to pay the Microsoft license fee for an operating system that they will not be using. Dell, or any other computer manufacturer for that matter, should provide hobbyists with machines that have no OS installed at all, or perhaps a popular Linux distro (doesn’t have to be Ubuntu) that any Linux user can use or replace with the distro of his or her choosing.

    During the last three years I purchased both a Toshiba laptop and a Dell desktop. Both machines were on sale at the time of purchase and both were good values despite the Microsoft OS installed on them. Both now happily run Ubuntu. I expect my next computer purchase will be similar.

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  24. Trent, have you ever looked up the history of BeOS ? There was one OEM who dual-installed BeOS and MS Windows on their computers, but was FORBIDDEN from mentioning BeOS (by their contract with MS). The customer basically had to be told by someone else how to access the fully-functional second operating system.
    I don’t remember the details but I know I read about that a year or two ago.

    • I’m familiar with BeOS (and Haiku, its open source rebirth). I wasn’t aware that any PC vendors had done anything like that with it. Do you know who it was?

  25. So this “letter to Dell”, have you actually sent it to Dell, or is it just a whine on your website?

  26. Dell has seen it: I posted a link to the letter on Dell’s Facebook page. You know, the one with 127,397 “Fans”. It also got 2,896 reads from where it was linked on Linux Today.

    Care to whine about that?

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  31. Hi all, we actually have the same issue in France. Only one laptop, I must say netbook instead, is proposed… Nevertheless, it seems that the new Vostro 3×00 are going to be sold soon with Ubuntu, so it’s perhaps an other step forward. But will this offer be stable in time? Not sure at all…
    Btw, thanks for this welcoming “coup de gueule”!

  32. Just read your column tonight. You’re bang on. Best piece I’ve read about Dell’s sorry-arsed support for Ubuntu.

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  34. In summary…

    DistroWatch has been my premier place to read about distro’s.
    PriceWatch has been a premier place to find “no OS” machines.
    I can apt-get Debian repo’s directly in sidux… even the unofficial ones!
    :D

  35. Hey, I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I like what you have to say. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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