Dell made waves in the tech media when it announced recently that it would be including pre-loaded Linux on certain PC and laptop offerings -- and this after declaring that it wasn't yet ready to do so. One of the computer maker's hang-ups the first time customers requested pre-loaded Linux was that it would be too difficult to support all of the Linux distros and impossible to choose one that would make all of the customers happy.
It seems the powers-that-be at Dell have changed their minds again. Ubuntu's new "Feisty Fawn" is the operating system of choice, according to ZDNet. Customers will also have the option of purchasing support from Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu distribution. Financial details of the agreement have yet to be disclosed.
So far, the news has raised two huge questions: Will this take off? And will Canonical be able to pull off the support that this kind of deal will require? On the first, the ZDNet writer seems skeptical. Despite the success of Linux on the server, the OS has never gained much traction on the desktop. He also notes, however, that Dell doesn't usually do something unless it's pretty certain to result in a good return. So the fact that Dell is the vendor tackling it should mean something. Reader comments on the issue represent a variety of views.
The 451 Group's Nick Selby raises the second question (or set of questions) in today's blog post:
We believe that the market is there and ready for the offering. This success of this deal, then, will hinge on two key aspects. First is Canonical's ability to scale its end-user tech support. Second is how Canonical will react when customers, for the first time since the launch of Ubuntu, are pissed off at it.
In a very thorough piece, he explains why such support will be a challenge. He points out that Canonical is used to supporting those who know enough about open source and/or Linux in particular to have done their homework and managed to install Ubuntu before looking to the company for help with whatever the problem might be. Now, not only will the number of end users increase significantly, but they will also be users who expect their systems to run right out of the box. That's what they paid for, after all. And they won't necessarily be able to provide as much helpful information as Canonical's support techs are accustomed to receiving.
It's not that the company can't do it. As Selby says, the standard is simply much higher.