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Dell Chooses Ubuntu for Linux Machines

The fortunes of the Ubuntu version of Linux got a boost on Tuesday as Dell Computer, Inc. announced it will begin selling the open source operating system with selected desktop and laptop models in its consumer lines.

Users buying Ubuntu's "Feisty Fawn," or 7.04 version of Linux, will have the option to purchase support from the product's primary caretaker, the European-based Canonical Ltd. Dell will begin offering the operating system with its systems at the end of this month.

This is not Dell's first attempt at bundling Linux with its systems. The company first offered it on desktop and laptop systems in the late 1990s but abandoned the strategy in 2001 when it felt demand for Linux on business or home desktops was not sufficient.

Some industry observers believe the company is making the move to bundle a much lower-cost version of Linux to bolster some of the market share losses it has suffered to desktop leader Hewlett-Packard Co. over the past couple of years. But how much of a short term gain deals like this gives them remains questionable.

"I don’t think they will get a big lift in volume from Linux desktops at this moment in time. But being back in this space may better position them for future opportunities as they emerge," said Al Gillen, research vice president of System Software at IDC in Framingham, Ma.

Ubuntu does not have nearly the market presence of rival Linux offerings from Red Hat, Inc. and Novell, Inc. although company officials hope this deal will give the startup greater visibility.

"I think this deal is important in terms of the broadening and adoption of Linux in general and of Ubuntu in particular. If offers some recognition for the traction we have built over the past three years," said Jane Silber, Canonical's director of operations.

Silber said she believes the deal with Dell is only one indication of what she sees as building momentum among business users and consumers for Linux on desktop and mobile systems. There has also been increased interest on the part of small regional OEMs and other hardware component makers to bundle versions of Linux, she said.

"We are starting to see more component vendors writing drivers for Linux. We are seeing the kind of building momentum at a grass roots level that could lead to a tipping point (for desktop versions of Linux)," Silber said.

Some observers believe Ubuntu in fact has made some progress but it has only taken the first few steps in what is likely to be a long journey towards being a mainstream Linux distributor.

"They have done a great job building community but now they have to turn this into a commercial operation. It is not a given this will happen quickly or easily. Getting recognition for Ubuntu is one thing, getting customers to pay for support is another," IDC's Gillen said.

Likewise, Linux nation has a long way to go before it makes a serious dent in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows desktop monopoly. According to IDC, Windows accounted for 92 percent of all operating systems licenses shipped in 2006 ,with Linux totaling only 3.8 percent, just behind the Mac OS, which had 4.1 percent.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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