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Is Linux on Dell a Pipe Dream?

The real cost of delivering Desktop Linux to the average Dell home-user.

As some of you might know, a storm has been brewing on the horizon. And Linux is in the air. But not all things are as they appear...

The cost breakdown of a "blank" Dell PC

Crapware

It has been hinted by Michael Dell that the cost of a Linux system is $60 more than a Windows based-one, due to the profits made from the crapware [MusicMatch, RealPlayer, McAffee, Norton, AOL, NetZero, and another 30 programs...] that Dell pre-installs and also burns into the Windows CD. [See the PC Decrapifier for help with that problem!]

$60 to keep crapware off of a Windows PC?

"What's more interesting is Dell's response to an offer from someone in the group who said that they would pay $60 to receive a PC without all of this bundled software. Dell's response was "sold!," implying that this would indeed be enough to cover the loss of revenues. Dell didn't respond to other offers, including one for $10. Would you pay $60 more for an OEM PC without all of the bundled stuff? I couldn't stomach it."

The desktop systems Dell ships are sold with small margins, where volume is the key. A $60 dollar profit per PC is not something Dell will swallow easily. Expect the cost to be passed onto the consumer.

Microsoft Tax

For an Original Equipment Manufacturer [OEM] to receive a volume discount on a Windows OS, a contract has to be signed. And for an even better deal, the OEM becomes a "Microsoft Partner."

While no one really knows what goes into each contract [as they are considered to contain trade secrets], we do know about the "Microsoft Tax."

The "Microsoft Tax" requires an OEM to pay for a Windows License, for each system shipped, regardless of whether that system shipped with Linux, FreeDOS, or no OS installed. You still pay for a Windows License. You just don't get it in this case.

And even with the media and license at hand, your only recourse is to attempt a refund -- which is easier said than done...

The Microsoft Tax revisited

"Five years later Steve Qualline got a US$199 refund for his Win XP licence in the Small Claims Court in California. [The story] is very much a HOWTO, a very funny one, and it prompted one user to suggest an alternative route to a refund involving some creative credit card tactics."

Whether you like it or not, when you buy a Dell system with no OS, or Linux pre-installed, you're paying another $60 for a Windows License. [My hat is of to you Microsoft, nicely done! Monopolistic behavior at its best.]

Support

The cost of home-user support, and the issues involved, are a real nightmare.

Some customers think the CD tray is a cup holder. Others think the mouse is a foot pedal that turns the computer on. And on occasion a keyboard is cleaned by soaking it for a day in a bathtub.

Computer Stupidities

"It's a baffling phenomenon that in today's society an individual, who might in other circumstances be considered smart and wise, can sit down in front of a computer screen and instantly lose every last shred of common sense he ever possessed. Complicate this phenomenon with a case of "computerphobia," and you end up with tech support personnel having phone conversations that are funny in retrospect but seem like perfectly valid motives for wild machine gun shooting sprees at the time."

Now ask yourself, if it's that bad with home-users on Windows, how do you deal with providing support for Linux to the same user-base? What are the costs involved? The word "astronomical" would do well here.

Dell's IdeaStorm

IdeaStorm is the catalyst that started the process of placing Linux on Dell systems -- and is also something that Dell has learned to regret a great deal, as claimed by some.

Dell cocks a deaf ear to Linux at its online listening post

"Of late, however, Dell has hit a bad patch. Senior executives have been fired, opted to spend more time with their families, or departed to take up promising new careers in the fast-food industry. Michael Dell, the company's flamboyant founder, has returned to take command of the listing ship. And as part of his attempts to revitalize the company, Mr Dell and his team had a Big Idea: why not ask customers for their ideas about what should be done?"

So how is this all going to turn out? No need to wait or speculate anymore, the results are in...

March 28, 2007: Dell to Expand Linux Factory Installed Options

"Dell has heard you and we will expand our Linux support beyond our existing servers and Precision workstation line. Our first step in this effort is offering Linux pre-installed on select desktop and notebook systems. We will provide an update in the coming weeks that includes detailed information on which systems we will offer, our testing and certification efforts, and the Linux distribution(s) that will be available. The countdown begins today."

Lets give it time, and see how this turns out. How Dell handles the cost and support issues will make or break this.

Caveat Emptor. "Let the buyer beware."

Is Microsoft playing a chess-game here? Could this be a move that is designed to backfire against Linux, and the community, as a whole... Charge more money per "blank" system, provide terrible support, have nothing but problems, and shift the blame to Linux.

First it was SCO, now it could be Dell. Is this Linux's last stand for the desktop?

Final Thoughts

Dell "considered" AMD publicly a few times, just to get a better deal with Intel. Don't ignore history.

The potential market share of home-user Linux is little compared to the Windows share, at this time.

Why would anyone even consider buying a Linux system from Dell, unless it was priced at least $60 below a similar Windows system?

The future of Linux is on the Server, with business clients, and low cost PCs. Even if everything just worked and was supported out-of-the-box, there are other issues at play here that will slow the growth of Linux on the Desktop. Microsoft, and friends, have a bottomless war chest with an army of lawyers. They are not going to sit back, and kick their feet up. In my opinion, it will take another 5 years for anything to happen.

Hijacking the World: The Dark Side of Microsoft [PDF]