Buy! Buy! Buy! - into Openness

One of the core problems for open source has always been that as a radical force outside the mainstream it is hard for its supporters to influence conventional players there. In part, this was what made Dell's Ideastorm so important: it gave a voice to those hitherto unable to communicate usefully with the company. The effects have been dramatic, with Dell now promising to sell systems with pre-installed GNU/Linux. The question then must be, how can we build on that success to achieve maximum impact?

This matters – assuming Dell's announcement turns out to be a serious move to embrace open source. If Dell makes only a token gesture to meet the pent-up demand for such solutions, clearly the free software community needs to make its displeasure felt. Fortunately, in the age of blogs, it is easier to whip up storms of bad publicity for companies that use and abuse its customers in this way – tempests that can easily spill over into the mainstream media with all that this implies for sales and share prices.

Equally, if Dell turns out to be sincere in its desire to put free software offerings on a more equal footing with Windows-based solutions, it is crucial that the open source world do more than just make vaguely-satisfied noises. If and when Dell-branded GNU/Linux systems go on sale, it will be one of the first opportunities for the open source world to influence directly the development of the mainstream PC marketplace.

The way to do this is simple: we must vote with our wallets. Assuming the Dell GNU/Linux systems are not hopelessly flawed in some way, we must all try to buy as many of them as we can (within reason, of course). This might mean delaying a purchase now until the systems are available, or bringing forward plans to buy more hardware. It might mean replacing an ageing PC with a new Dell machine rather than upgrading the motherboard and adding more memory.

However we achieve it, we need to send a strong signal to Dell that backing open source is profitable. Doing so will have two important consequences. The first is that Dell will be likely to expand its offerings, and to take the sector seriously. Even more importantly, its rivals will be forced to take notice of GNU/Linux systems, and will probably start offering them too. This is why we cannot afford to let the Dell experiment fail. It represents a great chance to open up the PC market and to create a level playing field for operating systems, once and for all.

Exactly the same approach needs to be taken in the field of open content, specifically that of music. EMI's announcement yesterday that it would be making its entire catalogue available without DRM is another major shift, like Dell's GNU/Linux offerings, that must be supported in a highly visible way. If backers of DRM-free music start buying tracks and encouraging their friends to do the same, a signal will be sent to both EMI and the other music companies that DRM-less music makes business sense.

As well as freeing the music, such a campaign will have the secondary benefit of weakening Microsoft's WMA format, since the only reason many music providers have opted for it is because of a perceived need for the associated DRM. Once DRM is defeated, semi-open formats like MP3 (and maybe even Ogg) will flourish, and the proprietary approaches will gradually fade away, with obvious knock-on benefits for the free software world.

Now, then, is the time to buy open like never before – so that the companies making these exploratory moves, as well as their more sceptical rivals, really start to buy into openness.

Glyn Moody writes about all kinds of openness at opendotdotdot.



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The real news is that open

stone tile's picture

The real news is that open source technologies are now ubiquitous. It will cost Microsoft millions of dollars to move aQuantive off open source. And it would cost an unconsionable amount of money to move American enterprises off it.

Dell & Linux

Anonymous's picture

Several years ago, I ordered a high end workstation from Dell with Linux
pre-installed. What a mess. They installed everything in one partition. Needless to say, all had to be partioned and reinstalled. Also, their "customer service" had no clue about supporting a Linux system - my system was delivered with a bad hard drive. They could do nothing to help but say I should use Windows to trouble shoot the problem. The entire experience was a waste of time and money (hard drive and labor to fix their mess on a $5K machine).

It's hard to believe they are any better considering their current business status. I, for one, will never purchase another Dell system.

Hope you sent it back and got your money back

Anonymous's picture

And if you didn't, then that's your fault for not doing the following:

1.) Using a credit card for the initial purchase.
2.) Sending back that piece of crap they sent you and issuing a chargeback.

You've got to protect yourself and stand up for your rights. If you don't the vendors'll walk all over you.

If they do it right, I will recommend Dell now

Anonymous's picture

I know lots of n00b's. They're always asking me for computer advice. If Dell actually does it right, I'll be able to recommend Dell for the first time in a very long time.

I'm surprised Gateway didn't do it first, given that they're in the toilet.

Microsoft needs more help than Dell

Anonymous's picture

Before we get carried away trying to help Dell, remember that Linux provides a more lucrative platform to an OEM than does Windows if only because of the added flexibility for customizing it and bringing in more advertizing revenues. Linux is great in many ways and the FLOSS world has and continues to do so much of the work to help anyone to the next level. Dell likes automation and customization. Linux likes automation and customization. Consumers like automation and customization.

Dell's main contribution may be by increasing visibility so that more hardware gets Linux support (FLOSS being preferable by far) and more groups learn about and take Linux seriously. Dell stands to gain a lot. Dell doesn't even have to try too hard for the MS shackles to come off. Microsoft has shot itself in the stomach with Vista and Linux just keeps getting better and better faster and faster. see the 10th post down (by "Jose")

I should put up a website to accept donations to help save Microsoft.

-- J.

DELL's Linux move self defeating

tracyanne's picture

Yes DELL are advertising Linux on DELL on Google, but when you go to the DELL page there is no indication that Linux is even an option. I rang DELL Australia today (actually it's DELL Malaysia, but that's close enough for a Yank company, at least they are in the same general area of the world), and I was offered DELL precisions (didn't ask the price I was looking at Laptop prices) and the M65 Precision Laptop without an operating System - the M65 Laptop is $AU2989.80 with no OS, not exactly a home user priced commodity. M1025 and similar series laptops, aimed at the home user market, with Windows Vista are $AU1000 cheaper.

I think that when the dust settles, DELL's self defeating Linux marketing strategy will "prove" once again that Linux doesn't sell computers.

The way DELL has set up the marketing of Linux, you have to be seriously in the know, and be looking for Linux. No ordinary home user will buy DELLs with Linux preinstalled, simply because they won't know the option is available, and the DELL attitude, from what I can tell, after talking to their salesmen, is, "take it or leave it, that's the deal."

dell linux systems aren't out yet

xenoterracide's picture

you do realize that the systems that the author is referring to aren't out yet, and that you aren't likely to be able to buy them for a year at least.

Let's hope Dell does it *right* this time

Anonymous's picture

The last time, they did it with an obvious intent to fail. The reason is obvious: Microsoft "co-marketing" dollar$.

This time, let's hope that Dell puts the same marketing push behind their computers with GNU/Linux as they do with their computers with MS Windows. Anything less than that is guaranteed to be a failure. On their home page, and every other page dealing with desktops/laptops, hey need to prominently say, "Now available with secure, virus-free Linux!" or some other consumer-friendly soundbite like that. And it needs to be in BIG, BOLD PRINT.

They also need to do this in all the same publications and TV ads that they do now for their MS Windows-equipped PC's. That means InfoWorld, PC Magazine, PC World, The Wall Street Journal, CBS, NBC, etc. Wherever and however they advertise their Windows PC's, they also need to advertise their Linux PC's...IF they want it to actually work. Just like with selling *anything* else in this world, they need to come up with the proper sales and marketing campaign.

Furthermore, it's got to be for longer than the proverbial "one week of good behaviour." How long did Microsoft continue to advertise Windows NT Workstation (initially a major flop) until it finally took off in the late 1990's? Years! Seems to have worked out pretty well for them; Windows XP is simply Windows NT Workstation 5.1.

Sales of something new takes time to take off. The consumers have to see it again and again, thus coming to accept it as "normal" and then plunking down cash. How many times have I heard typical consumers refer to my GNU/Linux-running laptop as "hmm, kinda cool," and then turn right around and ask me if it does all the stuff that a "normal PC", i. e. one running MS Windows, does? I lost count a long time ago.

For this to work, Dell needs to make the consumer see their GNU/Linux PC's as "normal". Again, *anything* less than this will be a failure. We'll see now, won't we?


Anonymous's picture



NawaMan's picture

I completely agree with you. Looking back at another project "Kylix." I was there when many borland customers (and very likely Linux fan) asked Borland to create Delphi for Linux. Surveys was taken (very similar to what Dell face here). The result was the failure. Not that Kyrix is not a great tools but at the bottom line not many people use it. There are many reason there (e.g. Pascal (I love pascal BTW), small market, not open source) at least on of the reason is the same here: Small market. I hope - NO - I really hope that this time around Dell's initiative will success and it will trig the larger adoption of Linux.

I recently bought a new laptop (a few months) and not likely to buy any more soon. So sadly, I can't help support this. :(

How about...

Glyn Moody's picture EMI DRM-less track or two?

Great minds think alike...or not...

helios's picture

I see an alternate and what I believe a stronger benefit to the Linux Community here. The strength of Dell offering Linux desktops is not in the act, but in the sizzle. Dell will end up advertising Linux, albeit to their own benefit but advertise none the less. Since this community is loathe to do anything like this for themselves, I suppose Dell doing it is acceptable. This Community, the community of one-man distro shows and smaller distros is just about to "let-somebody-else-do-it" themselves into obscurity. Yes, the Dell/Linux phenomenon is a good thing but only for it's advertising potential. Then again, for those who are content to let their hard work and sacrifice slide off the table due to apathy and the lack of media advertising...maybe that is simply a form of darwinism doing what it does best to those that deserve it most.

As far as buying Dell computers with Linux pre-installed, that's great for the uninitiated. Most Linux folks would rather build their own. Dell has altered their parts and case frames too much for us to have any use for them.


Dell, EMI -- Good Things Coming

Adler's picture

I too agree that the Dell decision, as well as, EMI are things worth watching.

Dell fails to deliver -- I never buy a Dell in my life. I've already banned SONY because of poor support. I'm not much of an on-line music purchaser, but this does raise another flag in the face of Microsoft.

I switched to Linux Years ago, and hope that the next annoncements are for ported apps that only ran under Microsoft. A free OS, and paying for ported apps -- now that's interesting... Hey, I've already done that.

Phoenix, Arizona