In an online survey, Dell has been asking people to express their views about whether they want to be able to buy Dell systems running Linux. We think this innocent survey (which brought Dell's servers down, as the story hit Slashdot) could just see the emergence of Linux on the desktop, from a totally unexpected angle.
The survey is brief but covers the main points. Do you want Linux on your cheap Dell boxes? What flavour of Linux? What kind of support? Thanks.
Dell already offers Linux on at least one model of PC. It's not much, and mostly, what I think most people want is to be able to send a relative or friend to buy a Linux-installed notebook or home PC, secure in the knowledge that they'll be able to surf, email, and play music without coming back after three months with a PC crawling with parasites.
Last month I gave my mother a Xandros PC, showed her how to start OpenOffice and Firefox, and she's been a happy Linux user since, with no further help from me. This is the kind of experience that would make me recommend her buy a Dell, next time.
But what flavours of Linux is Dell looking at, and why? Remember, Dell has been a faithful friend of Intel and Microsoft even at great cost to itself. While every other smart vendor moved to AMD Opteron chips for its servers, Dell loyally kept its high-end boxes running on Intel, until it was too late to benefit from AMD's multi-year lead in the high-end market. For years, people have asked Dell to provide Linux pre-installations, and they've made it difficult to even get PCs without Windows pre-installed.
Suddenly, an on-line poll asking "what kind of distro do you dudes want?"
Something's changed, and I don't think it's a sudden conversion to open source economics. Dell has gotten the green light from Redmond to start down the road to Linux, and it is, I am certain, going to be Novell/SuSE Desktop for businesses with OpenSuse as an option for the cheapskate consumer.
Watch this space. If Dell announce that they will support Novell/SuSE, rather than the obviously more popular choice of Ubuntu, they will be expressing Redmond's preference, not that of their surveyed public. If Dell support Novell/SuSE, they do it with Microsoft's blessing, and this will be a second step towards a MS-Linux. The first step was, of course, Microsoft's deal with Novell.