Responding to user pressure, Dell confirmed it will preinstall the Ubuntu distribution of the Linux operating system on some of its computers in the US.
Dell made the announcement alongside Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu.
Speculation had been rife for some time that Dell would embrace Ubuntu, after Dell reached out to customers via the computer maker's IdeaStorm site. Users made it clear on the site that they wanted Dell to offer offer more support for Linux and promote the open-source operating system as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows on its home and office notebooks and desktop computers.
Ramping up the rumour mill was Michael Dell's own public penchant for the Linux distribution. The Dell chairman and chief executive uses the latest version of Ubuntu, release 7.04, also known as 'Feisty Fawn', at home on his Dell Precision M90 laptop, according to his executive biography on the Dell site.
"This ends the speculation," said Jane Silber, director of operations at Canonical. "We wanted to move quickly and give a response to the reports."
"The relationship with Canonical came about as part of our ongoing evaluation of distributions that customers asked for in our Linux survey," Dell spokesman Jeremy Bolen said. "Ubuntu was the most requested [distribution] by a wide margin."
Canonical will certify the Dell models that feature preinstalled Ubuntu and will also provide support for the Linux distribution, which users will have the option to purchase from Dell's website, according to Silber. Dell is still finalising its plans around support, but the company intends to fully support the hardware as it does with its n Series products, Bolen said. Dell's n Series Dimension and OptiPlex desktop models and Precision workstations come with a copy of the FreeDOS open-source operating system. The machines don't ship with a preinstalled version of Microsoft's Windows.
While Silber expects the Dell Ubuntu machines will not include a preinstalled version of Windows, Bolen sidestepped the question, only commenting: "Our target for the initial offering will be Linux enthusiasts and we'll create a site that suits their needs."
Teaming up with Canonical is another step in Dell's strategy to support Linux, according to Bolen. "We offer Red Hat on our Dell Precision workstations, our commercial desktops and notebooks are certified on Novell SLED [Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop] 10, and now we are extending our Linux program to consumer enthusiasts," he wrote.
Although Canonical already works with a number of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), Silber believes the deal with Dell represents the first time Ubuntu will be preinstalled on a major computer vendor's machines. Previous OEM deals involved a post-purchase Linux installation or a CD of the distribution bundled with the computer.
As to which Dell machines will feature preinstalled Ubuntu, Bolen said the company expects to announce details by the end of this month.
"The select consumer systems that we'll offer will include Ubuntu 7.04 and Dell will evaluate the possibility of incorporating subsequent versions," he said. Canonical made Ubuntu 7.04 generally available last month and is set to bring out the next version of Ubuntu, release 7.10, also known as "Gutsy Gibbon," in October.
Silber expects the tie-up with Dell to boost the number of Ubuntu users. "There are a class of users who want a system preinstalled," she said. "A lot of people use Microsoft's Windows because that's what the computer comes with. The mere fact that Ubuntu's available out of the box will increase adoption."
Silber also sees Dell's endorsement of Ubuntu as helping to bring more pressure to bear on device driver makers to open up their offerings so the open-source distribution can provide the same level of device support as Microsoft's Windows.