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24 September 2010, 11:15

Why is Dell UK Making it so Difficult?

by Glyn Moody

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

(Douglas Adam's Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy)

Remember IdeaStorm – “Where Your Ideas Reign” – Dell's brave venture into the scary world of crowdsourcing? Amazingly, it's still going, although it doesn't seem to be the hive of activity it once was. One of the reasons why IdeaStorm was so important was that it allowed people to voice one of their key requests to the company: to be able to buy GNU / Linux-based systems. To its credit, Dell listened, and started selling them.

At the time, I wrote the following in response:

If Dell turns out to be sincere in its desire to put free software offerings on a more equal footing with Windows-based solutions, it is crucial that the open source world do more than just make vaguely-satisfied noises. If and when Dell-branded GNU / Linux systems go on sale, it will be one of the first opportunities for the open source world to influence directly the development of the mainstream PC marketplace.

The way to do this is simple: we must vote with our wallets. Assuming the Dell GNU / Linux systems are not hopelessly flawed in some way, we must all try to buy as many of them as we can (within reason, of course). This might mean delaying a purchase now until the systems are available, or bringing forward plans to buy more hardware. It might mean replacing an ageing PC with a new Dell machine rather than upgrading the motherboard and adding more memory.

However we achieve it, we need to send a strong signal to Dell that backing open source is profitable. Doing so will have two important consequences. The first is that Dell will be likely to expand its offerings, and to take the sector seriously. Even more importantly, its rivals will be forced to take notice of GNU / Linux systems, and will probably start offering them too. This is why we cannot afford to let the Dell experiment fail. It represents a great chance to open up the PC market and to create a level playing field for operating systems, once and for all.

I personally rushed out and bought both a desktop and laptop system. I'm still using them today as my main machines, and they are great – some of the best kit I have bought. But they are getting a little long in the tooth now, and it's clear that I will need to replace both fairly soon. The obvious thing to do would be to buy yet more Dell systems, and that's where the problem begins.

If you go to Dell UK's site, the front page has nary a mention of Ubuntu or Linux. If you use the search box, there are some hits for Ubuntu – mostly netbooks, but a few other systems too. Excitingly, some of these systems even mentioned Ubuntu 9.10 in the technical specifications. However, when I tried to buy these systems, the “Customise” feature did not include an Ubuntu option (sometimes I received the ominous message “The page you requested may no longer exist on”.)

However, even after all these disappointments, I still had hope, for known only to a few adepts of Dell's deepest secrets, there is a hidden page on the web site that provides information about Dell's Ubuntu systems. And sure enough it was still there, although its opening words seem rather a little unfortunate in the circumstances:

We’re glad you found Dell’s Ubuntu web site. If you’re not familiar with Ubuntu, or would like to learn more you’ve come to the right place.

There then follows something of a panegyric to Ubuntu, since I was informed how elegant, secure and fast it is. The page concluded:

Beginning in 2007, Dell began shipping computers with Ubuntu. Since then, Dell has shipped more computers pre-loaded and pre-tested with Ubuntu than any other computer maker in the world. Every computer we ship with Ubuntu has been fully tested to ensure the best possible Internet and multimedia experience Linux has to offer. Two high-tech leaders – ensuring Ubuntu on Dell "just works."

Totally fab – and confirmation that there was demand for GNU / Linux PCs. So, er, tell me, how do I buy one of these miraculous systems, then?

Please contact a Dell Sales Representative

Oh: why can't I buy it online like all the Windows systems? Haven't we moved beyond this telephone ordering business? But anyway, still keen to give Dell some of my hard-earned dosh, I duly rang the number given.

Next: Left hanging on the telephone

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