Dell’s partnered with Canonical in 2007 was pretty exciting news. In my professional life I have spent close to half a million on computer hardware with the majority of it going to Dell. All my personal computers have always come from them as well. When I decided to get myself a new laptop, I went to straight to Dell.ca/ubuntu to pick out my dream machine.
After a little poking around I realised that they only sell Ubuntu on the low end machines. At the time (almost a year and a half ago now) they sold Ubuntu preinstalled on at least one desktop machine and on maybe three different laptops. Their best one was the lowest end of the XPS line and had very few customisation options.
While I really wanted to buy a system with Ubuntu preinstalled so Dell would know that a market for this stuff actually exists, I also knew I would be doing myself a disservice by buying something less powerful than I needed. After agonising over it I bit the bullet and bought the top of the range XPS with most of the bells and whistles… and Windows Vista.
Looking again, Dell seems to have reduced even that meagre offering and is now only offering Ubuntu preinstalled on the Dell mini netbook and a low-end Inspiron laptop. Aside from the fact that Ubuntu is almost impossible find for anyone not typing in the URL directly, the worst part is the Inspiron 15 with Ubuntu is $579 while the Inspiron 15 with Windows 7 is $569. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but a computer with a $110 copy of Windows 7 on it should be more expensive than one without. It would be nice if one of the most obvious benefits of Linux were a little more obvious in the pricing. For a partner, Dell seems to have some funny ideas about what will help Ubuntu sell well.
While I believe Dell was correct in sensing that there is a market out there, and gutsy enough to try it out, its Ubuntu offerings seem to be languishing. Partly its pricing silliness and poor marketing but mostly it seems like they are misreading the market. Its been my experience that Linux users don’t buy low end hardware. Low end hardware in the Linux community seems to be something that is either gifted or salvaged, not something you purchase. When purchasing, its mid range to high end systems they are after. With that in mind, I can’t help but feel that Dell has missed the mark with their offering.
I suspect they missed it for the same reason most other companies still think there is no money to be made in the Linux world; there’s very little data. While Canonical is starting to gather a little data for their servers, I think the desktop probably needs it more. Perhaps its time for an Ubuntu version of the Steam Hardware Survey. Maybe they should consider some demographic surveys as well. I think its time we find out big the GNU dollar is.
I think this needs to happen before companies fall prey to a self fulfilling prophecy; Offer a product blindly, receive an underwhelming response, and conclude that there really is no money to be made from the 12 million+ Ubuntu machines and the unknown number of users of other distros. This kind of data would be invaluable not only to developers considering a Linux version of an existing program, but also to partners like Dell who just seem to need a bit of a nudge in the right direction.
What say you Canonical?