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Dell to expand Linux laptop & PC push

'Encouraging' sales of Ubuntu-based machines

Dell plans to continue the push to sell Linux-based laptops and desktop PCs, revealing promising sales as it approaches the one-year anniversary of its open-source strategy.

In interviews at Dell's Parmer campus north of Austin last week, four Dell representatives said sales of the Ubuntu Linux-loaded machines are encouraging, and the company plans to expand the fledgling programme to new computer models and markets.

Though they declined to give sales figures for the Linux-equipped machines, the Dell officials were adamant in saying that the programme wouldn't be continuing or adding new models if the sales figures were not adequate.

"A [sales] number is not going to validate it as much as our actions to date," which include adding new models and configurations, said company spokeswoman Anne Camden. Dell first offered Linux on Dell machines in 1999, when Dell installed Red Hat Linux on a selection of Dell servers, said Matt Domsch, the company's Linux technology strategist in the CTO's office. A short time later, Dell tried selling consumer-focused laptops with Red Hat Linux but the effort was not sustained due to inadequate demand.

Dell has continued to sell enterprise servers with Linux since that 1999 debut, he said. The recent Linux on Dell programme for laptops and desktop machines, however, has been gaining momentum, he said. "If the programme wasn't successful, we wouldn't be able to continue it," Domsch said.

The Linux-on-Dell idea was born in February 2007 after CEO Michael Dell debuted a new company-hosted blog called IdeaStorm, where customer could provide ideas and input on prospective new products and services. More than 100,000 people posted comments about wanting to see the company sell computers with Linux preloaded, straight from the factory.

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Users demand Dell Linux PCs

10 weeks later, in May of last year, Dell announced it would begin selling Linux-loaded machines to consumers and businesses.

So far, Dell hasn't advertised Linux on its machines in consumer-advertising campaigns, but is relying on open-source enthusiasts seeking out the machines on the Dell site. Those are often the same people who suggested the combination in the first place.

"Those who care know" that Dell is selling the machines, said Russ Ray, a Dell product marketing representative. "If you know Linux, you're going to know we sell Dell products with Linux on them."

Consumer-focused ads featuring Linux on Dell could appear at some point, Ray said, but it's not critical to the company. "I think that will occur when there's a reason for that to occur," he said. "We would like to get to a place where to some degree, it really doesn't matter" to consumers about which operating system is on the machines.

For business users, there has been a growing interest in the Linux-on-Dell programme, Ray said. "We have had many inquiries," he said, regarding cost savings, infrastructure needs, desired applications and compatibility with existing Unix systems, he said. "It's the stuff that you would assume."

John Hull, manager of Dell's Linux engineering department in its Global Solutions Engineering division, said that two years ago, he'd have never expected such a programme to get started.

The Linux on Dell programme has made Dell machines more desirable for users who are seeking alternative operating systems to Microsoft's Windows, Hull said. "People might have looked at other brands previously, but are now looking at Dell because of Linux. We started in the big markets where they were asking the loudest and we went from there."

The company has employees who are monitor a wide variety of blogs, looking for discussions involving consumers seeking information on Linux and laptops and desktops, Camden said. The employees identify themselves and post replies pointing people to Dell and its Linux offerings. "They evangelise it on that kind of level," she said.


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