Dell agreed to ship PCs and laptops with the Ubuntu operating system after more than 130,000 people promoted the notion on the company's IdeaStorm web site. It would seem, however, that only a fraction of these zealots were willing to back their votes with cash.
Dell has shipped close to 40,000 systems pre-installed with the Ubuntu flavor of Linux, according to multiple sources. By most accounts, that's a heck of a total for what remains more or less a fringe operating system. Ubuntu fans are urged to hold back their virtual quills of vitriol following that last sentence and remember that the OS trails major desktop and notebook OSes by quite a margin.
David Lord, a spokesman at Dell, declined to discuss the 40,000 figure, saying the company "does not break out" those types of numbers. Lord was, of course, willing to say that, "Adoption has been very good" and the IdeaStorm push where Dell asks customers to promote things they would like to see represents "a two-way street" where Dell hopes users "will vote with their minds and wallets."
The Ubuntu experiment marks the second time Dell has flirted with letting any old customer order a Linux PC off its web site. Grizzled open source warriors will remember CEO Michael Dell telling the 2000 LinuxWorld that "the only thing growing faster than Linux is the number of Linux systems Dell is shipping" after Dell revealed that Red Hat Linux would appear across its entire computer and server line.
Dell quickly gave up on a broad Linux desktop push, citing a lack of demand. More inquisitive types came up with other reasons for Dell's Linux abandonment.
Is 40,000 units over a number of months enough to keep Dell interested?
Your guess is as good as ours. The company sells about 10m machines per quarter.
For more on Dell's relationship with Ubuntu, check out our interview with Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth. ®