A Modest GNU/Linux Proposal for Michael Dell

For anyone who has been using open source for a while, the current commercial enthusiasm for communities, collaboration, and all things Web 2.0, is rather amusing. After all, the idea that users are not to be regarded simply as passive and grateful recipients of whatever is handed down to them from on high, but need to be treated as partners and participants who can make valuable contributions to the formulation and development of new products, is central to the way that free software works. But some companies that are starting to dabble with Web 2.0 ideas are discovering that you have to be careful what you wish for when you solicit this kind of user feedback. Just ask Michael Dell.

Against a background of some corporate turbulence, Dell has created what it calls its IdeaStorm site:

The name is a take-off on the word “brainstorm



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As you say, using the

felsefe's picture

As you say, using the IdeaStorm site for input into a new Web 2.0-savvy division would make sense; I'm not holding my breath.


Web 2.0

AlthafsPal's picture

My question is, how is this going to effect Web 3.0. You all know its coming in time.

Thanks for writing

Skischule's picture

great stuff, many infos thanks you

is the glass half full or half empty?

D.guttierez's picture

getting dell to listen to their customers is no small feat for the brave consumers who took time to write or let dell know their demand or stance on linux products...though nouvelle is making the scene, it all has got to start somewhere...right?
glynn better thank those who pushed dell into taking the first exploratory step...

A very good article.

new thumbs daily's picture

A very good article.

Microsoft will doubtless

mac millan's picture

Microsoft will doubtless convince the FAA that their offer is too good to refuse. But the important thing is that this is happening at all - it would have been unthinkable even a couple of years back. And it's going to become more common. One day, Microsoft will lose, and then Dell and the others will have to address the GNU/Linux market seriously.

Oh well, it would be unfair

Blogger's picture

Oh well, it would be unfair to say that Microsoft will one day lose. They have Think tanks and they are not there for nothing. They will always have an opportunity to jump into the Opensource bandwagon.

Well, thats true. They will

fling's picture

Well, thats true. They will do anything to remain in the business.


Steel Apple's picture

Let's all keep it top of the pops and maybe they'll listen!

Good Support

Ace Finances's picture

I've always found Dells support to be more than adequate and at least their attempting to listen to the customer.

Customer Support

Havaianas's picture

I have used Dell since 1999. They have ALWAYS be supportive and even replaced a complete cpu 1.2 years after buying it for a new one. They even paid me back to the shipping BOTH ways. You wont get this type of service from other online electronics company since the margin is just to low. The shipping eats away at their profits.

Poor Support

Adults O Rama's picture

They need to revamp their support structure before worrying about this.


Florida Bungalow's picture

I'll believe it when I see it.


Laptop Den's picture

I've always liked Dell

me too

cams.com's picture

Same here, I am a fan of dell too.

It's A Good Start

American Russian's picture

Bravo Dell!

Great Idea

Vid Catcher's picture

I think the ideastorm site is a really good idea

Great Article

HT56's picture

I really enjoyed this article and it's nice to see that some companies are at least trying to listen to the needs of it's customers.


The Best Baby Shop's picture

I've had alot of trouble with my Dell company laptops,especially the screens.

I Don't Know

The Puppy Knows's picture

I think it will be difficult to address this market.

We'll See

New Thumbs Daily's picture

I'm glad Dell is listening but it's actions that count.

Dell + Linux?

Ron Paul's picture

It seems strange to me that the type of people that use Linux would be buying Dell computers anyway?


engine's picture

I've always used Dell computers and liked them well, now when i am switching to linux .. dell + linux setup is made for me automatically, i didn't made it myself.

Strange but reality...

Goa's picture

I suppose if Dell manages to reconstruct on a better structure.. Linux users will prefer it definitely..


Geminiguy's picture

If Dell is considering open source.... then they need to consider revamping their entire support structure..., i.e., not leaving consumers stuck out in the cold between that stupid "Interactive Voice Response" junk... and the "I don't speak much English" reps from over seas!!!!
Just simply converting to open source is not going to cause their sales to skyrocket (which as we all know is basically the reason their doing this)
If they can't restructure their support system...., they're gonna give open source a bad name!!!! and frighten consumers away from the entire concept

Well, the reason is because

Anonymous's picture

Well, the reason is because they have their support system in countries like India and Philippines where English is not the first language. Dell is doing this to cut costs. Where a support rep costs $2500 in the US, the same costs $200 in India or Philippines. Dell clearly stands to benefit.


anatomous in California's picture

Yes they save money but do the reps understand that they represent DELL company?

I called the Dell (Phillipines) and asked a question about why my new Vista system was slower to load than my XP system --- the DELL TECH REP said the most unusual comment, " it's like when your in a fight, you don't back down"

WHAT, I THOUGHT? ( I thought what does that have to do with anything? )

There was also a lot if screaching, laughter and chatter (party atmosphere) in the background.

The tech rep was going to go remote to check my system, was instructing me the basic instructions, it was not connecting for some reason, I told him I had pressed the download (connect) button but the connection was not successful, he spoke very very good english, but had a strange attitude and communicating with him difficult.

I asked if I could speak to someone else that would better understand (what I meant or kindly suggesting - was someone that was more helpful) and he went off on, I could but it wouldn't be an American.

I THOUGHT, WHAT? I explained that was not what I meant at all (after all most DELL TECH SUPPORT calls are international I have spoke to many people from Dell and many are very helpful )

This tech rep seemed unprofessional or simply unaware that he was representing Dell.

AS A WOMAN, I found the conversation strange (especially the street fight don't back down --- bit) because generally most woman Dell computer customers don't experience many fights, and i wondered why must he discuss something techinical in a primitive manner.

1848041179145 Jan 12, 2008

My final thought is -- does DELL REPRESENTIVES that answer the phone THANK YOU FOR CALLING DELL HOW MAY I HELP YOU aware that they are representing DELL? I asked to speak to his supervisor and notified him of the call and asked him to review the call recording (Dell say's each call is recorded at the beginning of the call)

Laughable Support Indeed

Games's picture

I totally agree with you. We had been using Dell stuff untill recently we decided to go for a more expensive Sony option. I get to end of my tether just trying to get someone from their call centers to speak plain ordinary English to get my systems going.

Doesn't it seem like Sony

Cell Phone Reviews's picture

Doesn't it seem like Sony has been producing a much higher quality product recently. I have a Dell at the moment, but I've got my eye on a Sony when this one dies.

Dell knows nothing about open source

pozycjonowanie reklama's picture

Dell wouldn't know open source if it bit them in
the a$$.

I bought a Dell a couple of years ago. Had to complete the transaction by phone because Dell's
Web site *only* worked with Internet Explorer.
(I tried Mozilla, Konqeror, and Dillo. I don't
have anything that runs MS-IE.)

I specifically asked for a controller-based modem,
and it was shown on the invoice. They shipped
a worthless Winmodem(TM) anyway.

The hard drive crashed hard six months later.
I'd bought a Dell (for an out of town relative)
instead of a far more cost-effective and
compatible locally built white-box, just to
get the highly advertised Dell warranty with
inhome service. Dell reneged on the warranty,
and sent my relative a "self repair kit" instead.

I'm not holding my breath either

recetas's picture

I'm not holding my breath either, but I did add my 2 cents by voting the Glyn'sposts in IdeaStorm. I'd really consider buying a dual sys box with support.


adultfriendfinder's picture

Exactly my thoughts. I'd also consider buying a dual sys box with support.

Dual sistems suck

Nuevas recetas's picture

I just can't stand people who will use dual systems, just decide to let windoze go and join the Linux family.

No all recetas are true, each one will find their place, but get to it at once.


Good News!!

Ed2's picture

Dear Glyn,

Take a look below.


Dell Launches Linux Survey

The No. 1 computer maker's certification of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 could mean it's ready to mainstream the open source operating system.

By Antone Gonsalves

Março 14, 2007 07:11 PM

Dell launched a Linux Web survey this week, moving it a bit closer to reintroducing the open-source operating system as a factory-installed option for home or office use.

The survey, which was posted Tuesday and runs through March 23, asks a variety of questions, including which Dell system respondents would like to see with Linux, what kind of computing chores they would use the machine for, what type of software support they would like, and the Linux distribution they favor.

In launching the survey, Matt Domsch, Linux software architect for Dell, said in the company's official blog that Dell has been moved to action by the more than 110,000 requests for Linux computers on the company's online customer sounding board IdeaStorm.

"We hear your requests for desktops and notebooks with Linux," Domsch said. "We're crafting product offerings in response, but we'd like a little more direct feedback from you: your preferences, your desires." After posting the survey, the company received so many responses that the survey server was overloaded, and the system had to be beefed up.

While Domsch's remarks would indicate a Linux desktop is inevitable, a company spokesman on Wednesday refused to say it was a done deal. "We're not announcing anything specific," he said. An update on Dell's Linux plans would be available a couple of weeks after the survey closes.

As an indication that Dell is seriously looking at Linux, the company recently received certification of its Optiplex desktops, Latitude notebooks, and Precision workstations for Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. Certification for the three business product lines means the computers can be bought without an OS and customers can load Suse Linux with confidence that the OS will work.

Dell currently sells Precision workstations with the option of having Red Hat Linux preinstalled. The high-end computers are used to run industrial applications, such as those used by designers in manufacturing, or in the making of animation or movies. Dell has not offered a mainstream computer with Linux since 2001.

Well, yes

Glyn Moody's picture

It's certainly good news that Dell is taking note. However, having filled in the survey, I was left with the impression that it still doesn't really know how it is going to address this market. The questions were all over the place, and suggested a company pretty much at sea.

It will be interesting to see what Dell comes up with, but I feel that radical solutions, rather than token gestures, are needed here.

indeed good stuff

live news's picture

dell is my choice only because of the cams hardware support it gave me when we built our business in asian markets. now we are live and streaming with the new processor

What would that be?

Anonymous's picture

I'd rather not be in the executive with this task at dell. Adressing this market looks preety hard. Diversity makes it so hard for round up a good support program that will fit all of our needs. Hard market, hard to please users, hard task.

Just my thoghts

Nuevas recetas de cocina!

Roll your own

not uteck's picture

If Dell is truly worried about supporting various distros, and does not want to pick one, then they can roll their own distro. They will probably cite technical fiscal burdens as an excuse not to, but Oracle did that, so their is a precedent.

After watching a show about Ford the other day, I see Dell's problem. Like Ford did with the Model T, Dell has over specialized it's assembly line for peek efficiency at the cost of flexibility. This is partially why AMD processors took so long to get added, and will be a hurdle for pre-installed Linux. Adding Linux as a broader option then just the limited selection of the N-series will increase the overall cost per unit. That cost may not be much, but in the razor thin profit margens they operate at, it will cause some concern with board members who do not believe that sales and profits will increase.

So, will some other company look at the results form IdeaStorm and decide to implement them? HP uses Debian in house so perhaps they might offer it or Ubuntu as an option on their desktops?

FAA is looking into dumping MS

Anonymous's picture

I love it!
Here's the link:


This was the paragraph that caught my attention regarding Dell:

"Bowen said he's in talks with the aviation safety agency's main hardware supplier, Dell Computer, to determine if it could deliver Linux-based computers capable of accessing Google Apps through a non-Microsoft browser once the FAA's XP-based computers pass their shelf life. "We have discussions going on with Dell," Bowen said. "We're trying to figure out what our roadmap will be after we're no longer able to acquire Windows XP.""

There's a department-wide moratorium on Vista, IE7, and Office 2007.

The bad news: They have a trip planned to Seattle to talk to Microsoft. That's when the strobe lights start and the brain washing begins...They'll probably get Vista Enterprise and Office 2007 for the same $50 per user per year Google is charging-and Dell will step in and upgrade the systems for a very low price to keep the account.

As you say

Glyn Moody's picture

Microsoft will doubtless "persuade" the FAA that they have an offer too good to refuse. But the important thing is that this is happening at all - it would have been unthinkable even a couple of years back. And it's going to become more common. One day, Microsoft will lose, and then Dell and the others will have to address the GNU/Linux market seriously.

Already purches two systems from Del-one with Linux

Anonymous's picture

You can get all three of their lines of systems, Optiplex, Diminsion, and Professional Workstation either without an OS and the Workstations with pre-installed Red Hat Enterprise Edition. Dell calls these the N-Series Open Source desktops. I purchased an Optiplex three years ago and a 470 workstation as well.

What I find interesting, if you go to Dell's site, it is a lot cheaper to buy without an OS and you get more choices. In a test I configured an Open Source N-Series with 2Gb of RAM (no PC should come with less) with the rest at defaults came to $589 the same PC but with 400Mhz less of a processor (it didn't even have an option for an AMD 3800+) and a LE version of the GeForce video along with Vista Premium (for and addtional $30-interesting no choice to go to Vista Ultimate) and this one configured out to $717. Another interesting thing, in playing around the configuration applets on HP and Dell's websites, you aren't getting out of there with a Vista ready PC with Vista Ultimate and 1Gb of RAM for less than $1000-and if you add the 2Gb of RAM you are talking abut $1300. So much for the $400 PC.

Not so difficult

Christopher's picture

You say, "This is almost certainly not what the company was hoping to hear, because it's non-trivial to implement." That is not exactly true. Supporting Linux and providing support for Linux users are two very different things. Supporting the hardware that Linux supports, and putting some of Dell's vast hardware resources toward improving Linux's hardware support is certainly within Dell's capabilities. And Linux hardware support is support for all Linux distros.

And this is why the distro support issue is somewhat of a red herring. Most distros use the same subsystems and all can be made to use a specific set of subsystems. So support across distros for many of the difficult configuration issues is actually less difficult than it is made out to be. And we are talking about huge corporations with vast resources who have suffered though supporting many very different versions of Windows already.


Glyn Moody's picture

You're right that supporting the hardware isn't an intractable problem. But I think supporting users - especially typical Dell users is, at least for the company as presently organised.

Dell can't "just" support the hardware - otherwise the only people who will buy will be the tech-savvy, and that's too small a market for Dell to consider. It has to aim at the mainstream, and that means handling those messy human support issues too.

Maybe it can be done by outsourcing some aspects - I don't know: but that's why I suggest it would be worth giving a separate unit free rein to explore all these kind of approaches that wouldn't fit the traditional Dell culture.

Just don't buy Dell; buy elsewhere

Steve Walker's picture


We don't need Dell. There are a million small independent computer shops all around town that will be *glad* to build a PC for you. I see them all over the place. And no, I don't mean *just* Silicon Valley or Seattle, either; they're all over the country. Just go there, credit card in hand, and say, "Hey, I want a PC that works with Linux." I've actually done this. They'll do it, and yes, virtually every one of them that I've entered has people who know what Linux is.

No, I don't mean Fry's or Micro Center, though they'll build you a PC as well if you flash the cash. I mean the small independent shop. They *do* want your business, so they'll give you whatever you want. Just go in and talk to them.


No problem

Voter's picture

I have no problem with a no-OS notebook (lathough I voted for pre-installed). As long as the are certified, I can get hardware support , the choice isn't to limited(as with Lenovo expensive model or only a very cheap model) and I get a discount, because I don't get Windows (no windows tax).

Dell already sells RHEL servers...

Robert Pogson's picture

It would not take much to add LTSP or K12LTSP and then they could sell thin clients, lots of them. A thin client box can sell for $150 USD or so. That would undercut the competition. They could make money on volume. Why have one computer when you could buy two or three for the same price? They do not need to put any software on the thin client, just the BIOS and they know the servers are Linux compatible. They just have to make the client Linux compatible or buy one from the Chinese and mark it up. AMD makes the low power Geode chip which is suitable for fanless thin clients. AMD is now a partner. Thin clients require almost no maintenance. You just have to let air reach the fanless ones.

It's not that easy, it takes time

Anonymous's picture

Dell will have to handle user support for Linux. It's not something which can be overnight, even if they end up choosing a third-party company to do this.

When users will be able to choose, like, "Ubuntu Linux [subtract $80]", I'm pretty sure a number of users won't even notice they are choosing Linux, and not Windows, even after using it for some time... until they want to do something Windows-only, like installing some Windows-only stuff (yeah, there is Wine and Cedega -Cedega not being free, though we can easily imagine some deal with Dell)... and then, Dell will have to handle the confusion... (they will also have to manage things with Microsoft, and possibly suffer OEM price raises -Microsoft being Microsoft-, which probably is a good thing for us, but Dell will have to adapt, and it's not that easy (it's not that complex, but it takes time -of course, your can easily argue they should have started five years ago, if not more)).

About the SUSE Linux certification, and not (for now) other distributions, who cares? If the hardware is supported by SUSE Linux, it certainly will be supported by the other distributions... (well, there sure are some possible issues with proprietary drivers, and Dell will have to have some idea of what is *generally* supported, and what is not -except for graphics card (though it's certainly a question of time, notably if AMD starts opening the ATI drivers at least a bit more), there should not be any problem choosing hardware components which are all supported under your generic free GNU/Linux distribution).

Re: It's not that easy, it takes time

Kevin M:'s picture

>Dell will have to handle user support for Linux. It's not something
>which can be overnight, even if they end up choosing a third-party
>company to do this.

This baffles me. Dell doesn't need to "support" Linux in the traditional manner. To begin with, they're talking of working with Novell/SUSE. OK, some folks are torqued at Novell/SUSE but they've got a support infrastructure in place already. If I get a preloaded computer why not put SLED on it and give me one of those famous vouchers that Microsoft is handing out? I have trouble, I call Dell, and they transfer me to the SUSE support dept. All Dell has to do is program the phone menu (press 1 for X, press 2 for Y, press 3 for SUSE). Probably take the phone guys all of 10 minutes.

So OK, you don't like SUSE. Let 'em work out a the same deal with Linspire. Tech support? Already in place there too. As well as licensed media formats. (Remember the broader market - these won't only be going to alpha-geeks.) Yeah, yeah, no *real* Linux user admits to using Linspire. So do the same with Red Hat/Fedora. (Or Oracle anyone?)

Ah, but you want a bare metal box so you can put Debian, DSL, Ubuntu, whatever on it. No biggie. As Mr. Anonymous notes, odds are that if the video card, or modem, or whatever works with SUSE (and Linspire) it'll work with most other distros. If someone can gets a bare metal box and puts Debian or another distro on it on their own, they really don't need commercial tech support. The community has been providing tech support for itself for years and Linux is still going head to head with the competition an besting them 11 times out of 10!

Support issues are straw man arguements as far as I can see...


Why fixate on Dell?

Anonymous's picture

Dell makes great stuff, and they have great service, so I understand why everyone would love them to support linux better than they do. But I think they're unlikely to give us what we need any time soon. I think Dell is the sort of company that will come to us last, not first.

We need laptops we can order with components that are fully supported by open source drivers. I think lenovo is a lot more likely to ship those than Dell, and honestly, I think that if we rallied around lenovo, gave them some love, maybe some indie street cred, and tried to work with them, it would be a lot more productive than banging on Dell's door.

Remember how long it took for Dell to pick up AMD. They won't make this change easily.

Our fundamental problem is secrecy from hardware vendors. The core problem isn't with Dell -- the problem is with the people who make the parts that go into a Dell.

The secondary problem we have is with Dell -- there are costs and difficulties associated with limiting yourself to hardware with open drivers. We're asking Dell to absorb those costs, and there aren't enough of us to make it worthwhile. That's reality, and it's not going to change in the short term. Dell is under financial pressure, and asking them to make some altruistic change to help us out just isn't going to fly.

The people who don't need secrecy are the commodity guys, the people who don't care if you know their secrets because their costs are lower and they'll beat you anyway. In today's world, that's the Chinese.

I think we need to look realistically at what we need, and we need to look realistically at who is likely to give it to us. And then we need to work with them.

Personally, I love Dell. Their quality is great, and their service is incredible. I wish we were all on the same page. But we're not, and we have to face reality here.

I have to say, as well, that I find the bullying of them over this to be a little discouraging.

I'm not a big IT guy, but I have overseen the purchase of more than 100 Dells over the years, and honestly, they have been absolutely great every time. When there have been problems they've addressed them, and once they actually cut me some slack and fixed a problem that was my fault, and really covered my behind.

So in my view, Dell is great at what they do, and I won't bash them. We're asking them to do something else, something that's not in their interests, which is unreasonable and pointless because it won't happen anyway. And by tilting at this particular windmill, we're wasting energy and not working with companies that have a stronger interest in helping us out.

Give it a shot

JohnP@Dell's picture

Glyn, as a Dell employee I'd say you have nothing to lose by taking a couple of minutes to submit to IdeaStorm the idea to create a standalone business unit or separate organization.