How can Dell sell 31 Flavors of Linux and still turn a profit? Just mimic Amazon.
I don’t know what it is about Dell and its customers
wanting desktop and laptop systems pre-loaded with Linux, but it
seems to be a meme that comes up repeatedly, at least once or twice
a year. It must be that time of year: the idea has been resurrected
yet again by Dell’s IdeaStorm Web
site, the company’s virtual suggestion box. Apparently, over
80,000 people voted for Dell to offer Linux on its desktop systems,
including the ability to buy a machine with no operating system at
all. The vote, it seems, has caused quite a stir.
Of course, Dell’s difficult challenge is partly our fault.
Why, back in June of last year, I posited that Dell could only
afford to sell Linux personal computers if distributions
standardized more; otherwise, selling Linux would be a support
nightmare for Mikey’s crew. (See “Mikey Dell Has a Good
Point,” available online at
"story_link">http://www.linux-mag.com/id/2544/). But I have
been giving the issue some more thought, and I think it would be
possible for Dell to sell and support pre-installs of Linux on its
hardware, albeit not thru traditional means.
My colleague, Bryan Richard, Linux Magazine’s Editorial
Director, thinks the whole idea of desktop Linux on Dell is a bunch
of hooey and an impossible, Herculean task (see “Dell and
Desktop Linux: Can it Work?”
"story_link">http://www.linux-mag.com/id/2930/). He argues that
PC industry margins are just too thin to sell anything but
Dell’s bread and butter, Windows. Okay, I can relate to
But suppose that Dell were to take a different approach to
supporting desktop Linux? Rather than duplicate what the company
does with Windows — company supported Web sites to download
things like drivers and installation documentation, salaried people
dedicated to answering emails and taking calls from irate
customers, and an extensive effort to certify drivers and keep
up-to-date with hardware revisions — what if (and I’m
speaking strictly off the cuff here) Dell offered Linux support
akin to Amazon’s popular Marketplace?
In other words, what if Dell could et other vendors and the Linux
community to do its dirty work?
I mean, it’s not like this kind of thing isn’t
happening with Dell hardware already. In the “Dell Linux
Marketplace,” though, Dell would assume formal relationships
with the community and those companies that are already making
Dells work with Linux.
For example, how tough would it be for Dell to set up an
alliance with, say, Emperor Linux (
"story_link">http://www.emperorlinux.com) to fulfill an order
for a Dell computer pre-loaded with some flavor of Linux. Emperor
Linux already sells Dell laptops pre-loaded with Linux — the
only thing missing is a “Buy this laptop with Linux”
button on the Dell Web site. Just click and instead of being
charged for a laptop with Windows, you get charged for a laptop
with Ubuntu, Fedora, or
"i">OpenSUSE. Emperor Linux bills your credit card, and
ships you the PC, along with Emperor Linux’s customer support
phone number and a login to a special Dell Linux Web site that
offers driver kits, community-driven support forums (the emphasis
really is on the “community,” not dedicated Dell
support staff), and a SourceForge- like
developer zone for people who want to help develop drivers and
utility software for Dell machines.
The same could be done with Dell desktop machines. The Dell
Linux Marketplace would offer several vendors, and you’d have
your pick of sellers. Perhaps there are specialty vendors in
Germany and France where European customers can buy Dell machines;
or maybe there’s an Ubuntu specialist in South Africa or,
Sounds a lot like Jeff Bezos’s operation at Amazon,
doesn’t it? A Dell Linux Marketplace would be phenomenal for
small businesses who’d tack on all sorts of profitable
vertical services, and it would defray a ton of cost for Dell.
Amazon “outsources” business for specialized things
like food and high-end electronics they don’t normally stock,
and you get to choose the vendor, but it all happens thru the same,
familiar, effective Amazon interface. I don’t see why Dell
can’t do business the same way.
Jason Perlow’s yearly Amazon.com bill is
roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of a Latin
American third-world country. He can be reached at