Dell to sell Linux boxes

Dell to sell Linux boxes

After collecting some 1800 new product and service ideas from IT users and customers using an online "suggestion box," Dell said it's taking the user suggestions seriously and will soon debut and sell a new line of certified, user-ready, Linux-loaded desktop and laptop computers.

The Dell Ideastorm web site, where customers and other IT enthusiasts can offer recommendations about future Dell products and configurations that they'd want to buy, was started last month by CEO Michael Dell. He is looking for ways to re-energise the company's sales and financial performance after several disappointing quarters.

One post that got a lot of interest was the idea that Dell bring back a reasonably priced laptop computer that runs Linux.

Just a week after debuting the Ideastorm site, the company said that the Linux-loaded desktops and laptops will be the first user-generated suggestions that it will follow.

"It's exciting to see the Ideastorm community's interest in open-source solutions like Linux and Openoffice," the company said in a post on the web site. "Your feedback has been all about flexibility and we have seen a consistent request to provide platforms that allow people to install their operating system of choice. We are listening, and as a result, we are working with Novell to certify our corporate client products for Linux, including our Optiplex desktops, Latitude notebooks and Dell Precision workstations. This is another step towards ensuring that our customers have a good experience with Linux on our systems."

The company said that other Linux distributions were also suggested by users, and that Dell will look into possible certifications with other Linux brands across its product lines.

And while earlier Linux-based machines didn't exactly set the company's sales charts on fire, several IT analysts and Linux luminaries said conditions are better for Dell to try again.

"I think it would be very worthwhile for Dell," said Jon "Maddog" Hall, the executive director of Linux International, an open-source advocacy group in New Hampshire. "It's always better when a hardware manufacturer works with software vendors" to integrate their products for users. "That's what makes a good combination. That's why Apple is so good at what they do."

Hall, who hasn't used a Windows-based computer in some six or seven years, said that with more Linux applications available, the time may be right for Dell to release such hardware. "Today, with several good Linux desktop distributions like Ubuntu, Red Hat and Novell Suse, [the tide is] turning -- particularly with people who are a little dissatisfied with Vista and its minimum hardware requirements. I think this would be a good time to revisit this."

Caroline Dietz, a Dell spokeswoman, said the company will continue to review the ideas floated on the Ideastorm site and adopt them as it sees fit. "We're constantly evaluating our client products market for customer demand and a clear preference. Dell has seen over the last few years that there have been meaningful improvements in ease of use and function with Linux."

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