As it had promised it would do soon after founder Michael Dell retook the reins of the company that bears his name, Dell is expanding its use of alternative operating systems on its desktops and servers.
Just before the holiday season, Dell began shipping variants of its Inspiron personal computer lineup with the latest 'Gutsy Gibbon' 7.10 release of Linux from Ubuntu.
While Dell, the man, has said he uses Ubuntu on his own laptop, he is a bit of a nerd and has skills tweaking a machine that perhaps Dell's commercial and consumer customers do not have to make things work.
The 'chicken'n'egg' problem with Linux on the desktop has been that because the dominant PC manufacturers do not support Linux as an equal beside Windows, people will not buy it and try it. And the reason why vendors will not support Linux on the desktop is that it does not have momentum and market share. After a groundswell of voices from the Linux community asking Dell to support Linux on PCs as well as servers, the company is moving in that direction.
Or more precisely, it is doing it again, since Dell was supporting Linux on PCs in the late 1990s and did not sell very many.
Starting in December, Dell's Inspiron 530 desktop and Inspiron 1420 laptop are available with Ubuntu 7.10 preinstalled and preconfigured; Ubuntu is now available on Dell PC gear in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Dell has been shipping OptiPlex desktops in China with Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 and now Precision workstations in China are certified to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.
You can see the two new Dell Ubuntu boxes here. You cannot go to the normal sales front end for shopping at Dell and pick Ubuntu alongside Windows on the same box. The Ubuntu machines are segregated to a separate page, which makes it hard to comparison shop. But you can still do it with two browser windows, of course.
The Inspiron 530N desktop Dell is selling with Ubuntu 7.10 preconfigured has a dual-core Pentium E2140 processor running at 1,6 GHz, 1 GB of main memory, a 250 GB disk; it costs $599 with a $100 instant rebate as we go to press.
30 days of support for Ubuntu costs $65, one year of basic support costs $125, and one year of standard support costs $275 on top of this. The $499 price tag includes a 17-inch LCD monitor, a 48X CD-RW/DVD combo drive, an nVidia GeForce 8300GS graphics card with 128 MB of graphics memory.
So the final street price with software and 30 days of tech support is $564 for this Linux box. An Inspiron 530N with the same hardware plus Windows Vista Home Basic and 30 days of tech support costs $728. So Linux is quite a bit cheaper. Neither machine has anything beyond standard warranty support from Dell for the hardware.
If this option will be available in South Africa remains to be seen.