Dell Does Linux Laptops

by David Penn

One of the most prized signs of major OEM interest in Linux is the increased appearance of Linux on popular laptop brands such as IBM's ThinkPad. While proof of Linux's vitality is still found more often by the number of servers and workstations the open-source operating system is running, just put Linux on a laptop and the whole Linux community applauds.

Dell, the leading vendor of personal workstations in the United States (according to IDC), has announced that it will be selling two of its popular laptop models--the Latitude CPX and the Inspiron 7500--with Red Hat Linux 6.1 pre-installed. The Inspiron 7500 model is already available, with the Latitude CPX version expected by February 4.

Technical specifications for the Latitude CPX are available, as well as specifications for the Inspiron 7500. Note that, at the time of this writing, neither order form allows for the Red Hat Linux selection.

While many companies have begun offering Linux on servers, putting Linux on laptops has been a harder decision for a variety of OEMs. For one, laptops are rarely the most profitable computer for a company to manufacture and sell, due to higher production costs and the relatively smaller market for these machines. Secondly, many laptops come with proprietary hardware that has been more difficult for Linux programmers to support. One of the thorniest areas was getting Linux to work with Windows-only modems ("Winmodems"). Dell claims to have circumvented this problem through the use of a PC Card modem.

Dell's Linux laptops retail for the same price as their Windows counterparts, causing some Linux faithful to wonder why a laptop with a free operating system costs the same as a laptop with a decidedly not-free operating system. Some have pointed at "the Microsoft tax"--meaning "license fee"--but the more straightforward answer simply has to do with the cost of making laptops. The operating system is hardly the most expensive component.

Dell Inspiron ranked 3rd behind Apple's G3 Powerbook and Apple's iBook, and just slightly ahead of IBM's ThinkPad 700 series in a Deja.com user survey. The Inspiron is the larger of the two Dell Linux laptops, and is geared toward those looking for a full-fledged desktop replacement.

Most recently, Dell was in the news, announcing it would slash prices on its popular Workstation series by 17%. Dell cited "falling component costs" as one major reason for the price cuts, but in noting how well their Workstations function for web content creators and software developers, the company also seems to suggest that increased competition from companies including IBM, Compaq and Sun Microsystems has encouraged Dell to take more stringent measures to preserve its market share.

The company also announced "lower-than-expected" revenues and earnings for the fourth fiscal quarter ending January 28. Both supply problems with semiconductors and slow recovery in corporate and institutional sales in the wake of the Y2K rollover were blamed.

A few helpful links for Linux users looking to get Linux up and running on their laptop are provided below:

email: david@ssc.com

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