Dell and Canonical will announce a partnership on May 1 that will see the hardware giant ship Ubuntu Linux preinstalled on some of its desktop and laptop computers.

The move, which has been expected for some time, makes Dell the first major desktop vendor to release consumer desktops and laptops with preinstalled Linux.

Jeremy Bolen, a Dell spokesperson in Round Rock, Texas, confirmed to eWEEK in an interview that the company plans to offer select consumer products preloaded with Ubuntu 7.04, but declined to be more specific, saying that an update will be made in the coming weeks.

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But eWEEK sister site DesktopLinux.com reported on April 30 that Ubuntu will be preloaded onto a Dell e-series "Essential" Dimension desktop, an XPS desktop and an e-series Inspiron laptop, and that the systems will be available in late May 2007.

The Dell move is in direct response to customer need.

"Our general view is that when customers win, Dell wins," Bolen said. "There is growing demand for Linux in the desktop and notebook space, and we believe that there will be positive response to our efforts.

"In addition, we are seeing the overall ecosystem evolve with enhanced operating systems and applications that make Linux more appealing than ever," he added.

Asked if the company plans to announce similar moves with other Linux vendors, Bolen said that while it is only announcing a partnership with Ubuntu at this time, "it is important to remember that we offer Red Hat on our Dell Precision workstations and have done so for years."

Dell's commercial desktops and notebooks have also been certified to run Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, "although we don't factory install the operating system. When you add servers to the mix, we are addressing robust cross sections of the market," he said.

Dell announced in late March that it planned to release select desktop and notebook systems with preinstalled Linux, but declined to say which Linux distribution — or distributions — it planned to support on what hardware.

Then, in April, it emerged that Dell President and CEO Michael Dell runs the latest version of Ubuntu, as well as the VMware Workstation 6 beta, OpenOffice.org 2.2, Automatix2, Firefox 2.0.0.3 and Evolution Groupware 2.10.

For its part Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, is moving to ensure that the Linux software is fully supported on Dell hardware.

It is certifying the appropriate models and providing commercial support for customers who choose to buy this through the Dell Web site when available, Jane Silber, Canonical's director of operations in London, told eWEEK in an interview.

"We're very excited about this move," she said. "We see it as a strong endorsement of Ubuntu and a recognition of the momentum and market power within Linux in general, and Ubuntu in particular. It is an important step toward broadening access to, and adoption of, Ubuntu and open source."

While Silber also declined to comment on which hardware models Dell will be preloading Ubuntu, as well as when these will be available and how they will be promoted, she noted that the move is in direct response to customer demand recorded on Dell's IdeaStorm Web site, where customers have asked for Ubuntu.

"Dell is astute enough of a company to listen to that demand," she said.

A strong engineering relationship already existed between Dell and Canonical, and that will be used to certify the appropriate models to ensure that all the hardware components work out of the box, giving users the best, most easy-to-use experience possible, she said.

"We work with a number of vendors in this way, even without this type of relationship," she said. "We have, for example, a very strong engineering relationship with Intel to ensure that Ubuntu supports the hardware capabilities they provide, and their open drivers. One of the unique things about Ubuntu is our very open and transparent production process, which allows anyone to participate."

Dell's Bolen agreed, telling eWEEK that engineers from both companies have been working to certify select consumer products and that a good amount of the back-end work has already taken place.

"Our customers were really crisp on their need for products, support and distributions of Linux. We will start with select products and evaluate an expansion. We'll have a dedicated page that will serve as a portal for purchasing the products and providing useful information for the ownership experience," he said.

With regard to Ubuntu's role on the server side and similar prebundling deals, Silber said that while this announcement centers on desktops and laptops, Ubuntu has a very strong server offering derived from Debian.

"We take the same approach on the desktop as on the server: to have an absolute robust, simple, easy-to-use server capability, and we have extensive server deployments. At this stage, most of our revenue comes from server installations, and, while we are better known for our desktop, we are also strong on the server side," she said.

Ubuntu differentiates itself from its competitors — including Red Hat Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux — in two ways.

The first is in terms of how Ubuntu was produced and its update cycles, as well as the level of participation from the community, its partners and the independent hardware and software vendors.

"It is becoming the platform of choice for developers and ISVs and, increasingly now, hardware manufacturers. I think the fact that they can all participate in that process is valuable and positive for the overall health of the ecosystem," Silber said.

The second area of competitive differentiation is its business model, which Silber described as "fundamentally different, but one we believe is appropriate for an open-source operating system company. Our emphasis is on making Ubuntu available for free, so there are no separate community and enterprise editions. We believe everyone deserves the best software," she said.

Asked if this prebundling move with Dell will help further open the doors for Linux with other hardware vendors, Silber said there is currently a general marshalling of market forces that will have an impact on the other Tier 1 vendors.

"This is a very strong move for open source and Linux, and it also helps things like bringing those market forces to bear on the component manufacturers in terms of making device drivers available for Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular. My view is that moves like this are a milestone for the general market," she said.

With regard to the application ecosystem around Linux, Silber said that there have been clear and significant inroads in that area and most of the major ISVs support Linux.

Also, in terms of enterprise applications, collaboration systems, content management and those applications needed by SMBs, "I think Linux is absolutely a viable choice."

Canonical is also seeing very strong adoption of Linux from the bottom up, with developers increasingly using Ubuntu for new projects as it is free and they can prototype their new systems and test the architectures they are working on.

That work then, often, moves into production environments, she said.

Check out eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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