Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dell chooses Ubuntu: An overview

Yesterday (May 1st, 2007) Dell and Canonical both confirmed the rumors and officially announced that the popular Linux distribution Ubuntu would be found on 'select consumer desktops and laptops'. This decision was made, according to dell, 'by popular demand' through Dell's suggestion site, IdeaStorm. Many users also speculate the decision was influenced by Michael Dell's use of Ubuntu on his laptop.

Through the warring on various blogs, forums, and Digg submission comments, there's a lot of speculation and very little full-blown fact-seeking. Here's what I've put together:

Support. Basic non-hardware support will be provided through the Ubuntu community. As seen in the Dell website's support section on "How to install Ubuntu", Dell has no problem with pointing users in the direction of Ubuntu's established peer-to-peer support base. Canonical makes it's money by providing profession tech support for Ubuntu installations- which would easily answer where paid support would be purchased when buying a Dell PC.

Cost. Ubuntu Dell machines may very well cost as much as or slightly more than Windows machines. While this has not been verified by Dell or Canonical, each Windows installation on a Dell PC is subsidized by large amounts of trial software and bloatware from various corporations such as AOL and Earthlink. According to some sources, adding bloatware or trial software to Ubuntu, while possible, may be more difficult because of Ubuntu's trademark policies. Apparently to be an official Ubuntu distribution, certain requirements must be met that may keep Dell from adding any trial software to it's Ubuntu PCs.

However, one might say that with reduced technical support on it's shoulders, Dell could technically make up a lot of it's costs through that area.

Benefits of pre-installed Ubuntu. Many users are asking why anyone would opt for a PC with Ubuntu instead of Windows when one can obtain a cheap Windows license and install Ubuntu for free anyway. Here's some reasons:

A. When buying a Dell Ubuntu PC, you would be purchasing a pre-installed, pre-configured Ubuntu installation with all the necessary drivers.

B. All of your hardware, of course, would be linux-compatible and ready-for-use. If you purchase a Dell laptop with built-in webcam, all-in-one card reader, nvidia graphics card and built-in microphone, all of these would be linux-friendly and pre-configured to work out of the box. Of course, Dell could just slap a fresh Ubuntu install on it's PC's and ship a headache-in-a-box to all of it's customers, but with it's IdeaStorm website and choice to offer Ubuntu to customers many believe Dell is taking a turn in a new direction with it's customer relations. We can only hope.

C. How really useful is a OEM, Dell, bloatware/trialware infested Windows Vista Home Basic license key/cd? A large number of customers who were forced into buying Vista before Dell offered XP again complained of having to install XP over it anyway.

(Alternatively, if you need Windows Vista, my recommendation is to get it via an OEM distribution. Windows Vista Ultimate and Home Premium are at hugely discounted prices by this method, but you miss out on Microsoft support. Dogpile, then Yahoo, and now Google have been my Microsoft support sites for years anyway.)

Are you a potential Ubuntu user? I've helped hundreds of people make decisions on what kind of computer they need to do what they want to do. Ubuntu vs. a Windows machine is a very easy decision from that aspect. From the basic computer uses:

Ubuntu can easily do:
-Web browsing (via Firefox)
-Photo viewing (I never looked at what program handles this in Ubuntu, which is a good thing)
-Office software (through OpenOffice, which is basically a free office suite that is nearly identical in functionality to Microsoft Office 2007 Standard Edition)
-E-mail and calendaring (through Evolution mail manager, but of course a lot of people use web-based managers such as Gmail)
-Image/photo editing (through The Gimp, which is an awesome bit of software that I was using years and years ago to make a website in middle school, i.e. pretty easy to use and gives a lot of room to learn more as your editing needs increase)

What's tricky on Ubuntu:
-Gaming in general: A lot of games are supported through a program that lets you run Windows programs/games in Ubuntu called Wine, however for you to be truly sucessful with this an Nvidia graphics card is a near-requirement and you need to make sure your favorite games are supported before going for it. Most gamers will want to keep a Windows installation on their computers as well to switch to for gaming.
-Making financial and tax software made for Windows work in Ubuntu. TaxCut, TurboTax, Quicken, QuickBooks, etc. don't have viable alternatives in Ubuntu to my knowledge.

What's nice about Ubuntu:
-The operating system is rock solid. My parents use Ubuntu 6.06 on an old IBM machine, 400Mhz Pentium II with 384MB of memory on a 40GB hard drive. It sits on a desk in the corner of their living room and it is used to surf the web, send e-mail and read the news. Ubuntu runs flawlessly, the computer is never turned off or starts slowing down after extended periods of time between restarts. This kind of flawless performance compared to the previous Windows installation makes me very happy with Ubuntu overall. The number of tech problems they have run into with a Firefox (internet) icon, Openoffice Icon and a folder to save their files is zero.
-99% of the software is free and is easily installed from incredibly fast Canonical servers with nearly zero configuration by the user. Open add and remove program, search for the kind of program you need, check the box and hit install. It shows up in your Applications.
-All of the software installed like that gets automatic updates that are easy to install, are done quickly and don't greatly effect system stability in any way.
-Codecs are downloaded after a quick prompt (much like Windows Media Player), and the download and install is quick and fast. After removing all of my codecs and trying to play mp3's, avi's, ogg's, ogm's, mkv's, and wmv's I had all my codecs installed and better configured than my manual installation from previous Ubuntu versions (6.10).

Most people sit down at their computer, write a paper, surf the web, check e-mail and organize pictures from the net, e-mail or their digital camera. For those purposes, there is no better operating system than Ubuntu, period. It's reliability, ease of use and security are second to none. Dell's decision to include Ubuntu as an OS option for customers was an excellent move and I hope it becomes a sucessful venture for the company.

All images are copyright of their respective owners, including Dell and Canonical.

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