The free software world erupted into cheering when Canonical announced that Ubuntu would be one of the first GNU/Linux distributions to ship pre-installed on Dell machines. Obviously, this is huge news. A major computer manufacturer has not included a GNU/Linux distribution as a pre-installed option on desktops and laptops in a very long time. However, I’m not getting excited until a few questions are answered.
Question 1: What versions of Ubuntu?
Dell has announced they will offer Ubuntu 7.04. Which ones? After all, Canonical offers five different types of Ubuntu: Ubuntu, Kubuntu (with KDE instead of GNOME), Xubuntu (with XFCE instead of GNOME), Edubuntu (with many educational extras thrown in), and Ubuntu Server Edition.
Obviously, the default Ubuntu will be shipped. But what about Kubuntu? There is a huge KDE fan base that would love to have Kubuntu as an option. In fact, there was a recent topic on the kubuntu-users mailing list about this. Xubuntu probably won’t be shipped as it is geared towards older desktops. What about Edubuntu, the educational distribution that is rapidly being adopted by teachers and parents? Lastly, will Ubuntu Server Edition be added to Red Hat and SuSE as options for Dell servers?
...is that Dell probably won’t for the PC department. It will just confuse the average user. Too bad for those of us who are KDE lovers. Whether Ubuntu Server Edition will be added or not is uncertain.
Question 2: What models will include Ubuntu?
Note that in their blog post Dell notes it will offer Ubuntu on select consumer notebooks. Not all. What do they mean by select? Does that mean it will only be offered on a handful of machines? Probably not. But why not at least add that it will be available on certain major series (like the XPS series)?
...is as good as yours. Remember that although Dell wants to offer Ubuntu, they also want to offer Windows. If they offer Ubuntu for every computer they sell, Microsoft might start getting mad at Dell. On the other hand, if they only offer it on less popular machines the free software lovers start getting mad.
Question 3: How long will Dell offer Ubuntu pre-installed?
A little known fact is that Dell used to offered Red Hat Linux between 1999 and 2001. Michael Dell at the time was “singing praises” of GNU/Linux. For example, he explained that Dell used it for several jobs, including burning CDs. He even went as far to say that GNU/Linux’s market share was the same as Mac OS in terms of units. Sound familiar (except for the part about Mac OS)? Yet, just two years later, Dell quietly got rid of Red Hat. Of course, that was then and this is now. More and more people are choosing to use Ubuntu over Windows. Also, when people see that they could save $200+ (in some cases, as much as the actual machine), that share will probably go significantly up. Then again, maybe people were saying the same thing in 1999.
...depends on Question 2. If Dell offers Ubuntu on its major machines, Ubuntu will stick around on Dell. But if they don’t...
Question 4: Will Ubuntu come with trialware, bloatware, and junkware?
One thing that everyone is forgetting is that Dell ships virtually every single PC they sell with bloatware. “Free AOL For 99 Hours!”, “Try Wild Tangent Games Free for 30 Days!”, “Sign Up for Netzero Today, and Get Two Months Free!”. Will Ubuntu users be faced with this? Will we see icons on the desktop and menu displaying links to “30 Day Trial of StarOffice”, “Try VMWare Workstation for 3 Months”, or “Demo Version of Win4Lin Pro”? Luckily, one reason Dell puts this junkware in is to lower the cost of the machine. Take Windows out, and the machine is a ton cheaper. But still, who knows?
...is that there very well could be. There probably won’t be as much, since $200+ is knocked off the machine’s prices by not including Windows. Still, bloatware on Ubuntu wouldn’t be very encouraging.
Although the fact that a major computer vendor is now shipping Ubuntu is positive, there are quite a few questions to be answered before people should get excited.