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Dell Set to Sell Ubuntu Linux

Linux has never been a consumer option on mainstream hardware from a name brand manufacturer. Until now.

Dell and Canonical today are announcing that Dell will ship PCs with Ubuntu Linux pre-loaded. The move follows an unprecedented outcry from Dell's users who demanded that Dell support Linux for consumers and specifically Ubuntu Linux.

"We're obviously very excited about this. It's a strong endorsement of Ubuntu and is recognition for the traction and momentum that we've been building over the last few years," Jane Silber, director of operations at Canonical, told internetnews.com. "As well it is a true broadening off access and adoption for Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular on the desktop."

Though Linux has been available as an option for servers and business workstations from Dell and other hardware vendors before, consumer-targeted desktop PCs have never had this type of offering.

Initially the Dell Ubuntu pre-load option will be available only to U.S. consumers purchasing through Dell's Web site. Dell engineers will be installing the recently launched Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn.

Dell will install the version of Ubuntu that is identical to that which is freely available and not some special version made just for Dell, according to Silber.

Canonical also noted that any demand that the Dell deal may drive toward Ubuntu will not be a problem. Ubuntu updates on a fairly regular basis, with users connecting to the Ubuntu update infrastructure to download patches and updates. In the case of the recent Feisty update, Ubuntu servers were overtaxed with users waiting many hours to download the full update.

"There is a big difference between providing updates, which are generally small, and having people waiting to download 700MB ISO images, which was the release-day issue," Silber explained. "We have a very healthy mirror system already; we have over 100 mirrors around the world and I don't expect any problems."

Dell will not be offering the KDE Linux desktop variant of Ubuntu, called Kubuntu initially, and will focus only the GNOME Ubuntu version. That said Silber was quick to point out that this is just the beginning.

"We'll see how it goes, as both companies are interested in serving a market that exists and, clearly right now, it looks like there is a pent-up demand for Ubuntu, and that's what we'll be delivering initially," Silber said.

Dell had been soliciting customer feedback since February through its IdeaStorm Web site about what people wanted. Pre-loading Linux became the first customer-requested option adopted by the company, with Ubuntu being the specific Linux version that users were asking for.

Though Silber declined to comment on the revenue arrangement surrounding the deal with Dell, she was quick to note that, as always, Ubuntu will remain free. She explained that Canonical's business model is around support, certification and training. "With Ubuntu on Dell, commercial support is available for those that want it," Silber said. "For those that opt not to purchase, there is always community support."

Though the deal with Dell marks a significant milestone for Ubuntu and for Linux, Silber noted there are still some challenges.

"We will need to see the demand for the support offering; it's unknown at this point," Silber said. "There is proven demand for pre-installed Linux this has been a well researched business decision to do this."

Silber added that she expects the Dell rollout to go smoothly but she's been around long enough to know that there are always surprises.

Beyond Dell, Ubuntu already has a hardware certification deal with Sun. And Silber expects that with the Dell deal in check, Canonical will continue to expand its market share.

"The continued strengthening of the ecosystem both in terms of skills and education and in terms making Ubuntu available and accessible through this major distribution channel will continue the march toward much, much broader adoption of Ubuntu," Silber said.