I’ve been on the road solidly for the past 10 days but itching to write about Dell’s announcement of pre-installed Linux for consumers.
This is a significant milestone, not just for Ubuntu but for every flavour of Linux and the free software community as a whole. While there are already a number of excellent companies like System76 offering Linux pre-installed, Dell represents “the industry”, and it’s very important for all of us that the industry sees a future for Linux on the desktop.
Device compatibility is the top issue people raise as a blocker of broad Linux adoption. Many hardware manufacturers don’t yet provide zero-day Linux drivers for their components, because of the perceived lack of market demand for those drivers. The Dell announcement is already changing that. Those manufacturers who are Linux-aware will have a significant advantage selling their components to global PC vendors who are shipping Linux, because those PC vendors can offer the same components across both Linux and Windows PC’s. That commonality reduces cost, and cost is everything in the volume PC market.
I believe that the free software approach is a better device driver development model for component and peripheral manufacturers, and that once they have learned how to work with the Linux community they will quickly ensure that their devices work with Linux as soon as, or before, they work with proprietary platforms. It will take some time to help those vendors understand the full process of working in a collaborative forum with the upstream kernel community, to ensure the widest possible benefit from their efforts. I’ve no doubt that vendors who start out thinking in proprietary terms will, over time, shift towards providing free drivers in partnership with the Linux community. I would credit companies like Intel for their leadership in that regard, it’s great to be able to show how their free drivers make it possible to reach the widest possible audience with their hardware.
The most important thing for all of us is the commercial success of Dell’s offering. A sustainable business in pre-installed Linux in Western markets will give credibility to the Linux desktop as well as providing an opportunity to build relationships with the rest of the consumer PC ecosystem. We don’t have to fix Bug #1 in order to make Linux a top-tier target for hardware vendors – we just need to show that there’s an economic incentive for them to engage with our community.