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Is Dell hedging it's bet in the face of a possible future where Microsoft is both a supplier and competitor? Only if Dell decides to sell Windows 8 tablets. And we know what the answer to that is.
The news isn't that Dell is offering a $500 Intel 3rd Gen Core i5 laptop with Ubuntu 11.10. The news is that Dell is offering it side-by-side with their Windows laptops in print ads. Previously, to have Ubuntu loaded meant selling the laptop without an OS and offering Ubuntu as an OS option. This skirts around the need to have everything working properly from the get go and supplying the correct device drivers. Although I would have loved to buy this laptop just to see how much of the hardware is supported out of the box, it comes at an inopportune time as I'm in-between jobs right now. However, Dell's reputation with getting it right with Linux drivers on their servers probably meant they got it right here, too. The more interesting question is how good is the phone support for users will be. While it has support for Linux on servers, taking end-user queries is on a different dimension. Will Dell limit it's support around Unity and not go into hardware configuration at the command prompt? How will it handle the inevitable query on hooking up the laptop to the printer? Especially if one was bought together with the laptop.
It looks like a solid laptop with better than most, specifications. With a 4GB, it should be enough for most tasks. 4GB of RAM means something different to Linux users than what it means to Windows users. There is no option to customize it, although a call to Dell when ordering may give you extra options but bump you up price-wise. The 500 GB disk is also more than sufficient for the advanced Linux user. In fact, the most disk intensive use for Linux users would be for storing videos. The laptop also with comes with a 15.6 inch display with a 1366 x 768 resolution. This matches up nicely with the widescreen 1.0 megapixel camera at a 1280 x 720 resolution. All that and a writable DVD drive. This is the link to the specifications of the Dell Ubuntu laptop online. If this takes off, I do hope that Dell will kick in some local mirrors for faster updates.
Dell is also selling a Celeron-based version of the same laptop with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive for about $350.
So is this the tipping point where Linux will be offered as an equal?
Dell may see Microsoft selling tablets to businesses as a sign that they will have to directly compete with Microsoft in the future. So some may think that they might as well as give up the pretense of trying to vie for favorable Microsoft licensing pricing and offer competitive desktop OS. The problem is, this is supply and demand problem. The demand for Linux desktops is not there yet but there is huge opportunity to create that demand. But in order to create that demand, means pushing a total Linux desktop solution to customers. This includes asset management, remote desktop support and centralized management solutions that integrate into the existing environment.
So, think of this as Dell raising the ante against Microsoft. It's done a marginal market. A market where Microsoft is still king by sheer mind-share and where people buy Microsoft licences but can't figure out why. But this move sends a message to Microsoft that it should consider carefully it's purported plan of following in Apple's footsteps in owning their customers end-to-end. The next move is Microsoft's and it's hand will be revealed at the upcoming Windows 8 launch.
This is the poker game to watch.