Dell's Linux sleight of hand

Open source software for an extra £20


Pssst, pass it on… Dell is selling Linux-based home PCs and laptops to its UK customers, but you’ll need a very good eye and probably a magnifying glass to find the systems on the direct seller's website.

It recently said it had bowed to customer pressure by shipping computers with Ubuntu pre-installed - Dell already offered machines with Red Hat pre-installed.

But, if you're looking to buy these babies from Dell, don't expect an easy ride to get your hands on a machine that doesn't come with Microsoft's XP or Vista.

Many of you have contacted El Reg pointing out the difficulty experienced when attempting to purchase a Linux-based Dell machine. One reader asked:

"Have you tried to find Linux machines on the Dell UK website? Every time you get close you get redirected to the US website where the prices are in dollars."

Indeed, a visit to the website hurts the head with its confusing, hidden-away information on anything relating to open source operating systems.

Dell, it seems, is reluctant to big up its Linux offerings. At every opportunity it reminds potential customers that open source is NOT Microsoft. About Ubuntu it says: "The main thing to note is that when you choose open source you don't get a Windows operating system."

It also goes on about the benefits and disadvantages of open source. According to Dell, it's good for the community spirit created among all those friendly chaps out there holding hands and sharing code, but bad because it's not compatible with lots of other software.

You might be forgiven for expecting the same even-handed approach from Dell to its Vista-based machines. But no such luck, instead it simply loudly bangs the Microsoft drum.

All very well, you might say. After all, Microsoft is the leading global provider of operating systems and does have an all-important Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) agreement with Dell.

But Dell appears to be missing one significant point; it claimed to have listened to its customers who strongly voted in favour of Linux via the computer giant's IdeaStorm user forum.

A phonecall to the firm's customer support helpdesk, however, seemed to underline Dell's commitment to all things Microsoft.

A Dell support person, let's call her Pat, told us that it was very unusual for anyone to request a machine that doesn't come loaded with Vista or XP. She reckoned that "out of 500 customers only one person wants Linux."

Pat was very keen to push Microsoft as the recommended operating system of choice for all Dell systems, even after we pointed out our desire for a Linux-based PC.

In fact, the request appeared rare enough to warrant her having to check the system before confirming with confidence what Linux operating system was on offer: in this case it would have been an Insprion 530 loaded with Red Hat available for just £20 more than the same machine with Vista inside.

And, during the entire conversation, Pat failed to once mention Dell's Ubuntu offerings.

So, why the reluctance, Dell?

Well, no one at the firm was available for a chat about why Dell's UK website currently redirects to the US version for customers looking to purchase Linux-based systems, but it did send us a statement.

It said: "Dell Ubuntu is a dedicated site for Dell's Ubuntu customers where they can purchase the systems and find helpful information for their ownership experience.

"In response to customer feedback, Dell created the widely used Dell Linux Forum which provides a collaborative environment that enables customers to interact with other Linux enthusiasts by asking questions, sharing experiences and learning.

"Customers can also visit Linux Dell for more information on using their Linux systems." ®


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