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Dell + Linux + Wal-Mart

By James Gaskin on Wed, 05/30/07 - 6:25pm.

Lots of news from Dell about Linux lately. A few weeks ago, Dell said they planned to preload Ubuntu Linux version 7.04 on three new PCs, two desktops and a laptop. Desktops were expected, but the laptop was a nice touch. So many laptop parts are customized many Linux distributions have trouble running on them.

Linux fans flooded Dell's virtual suggestion box about adding Linux and Ubuntu's new "Fiesty Fawn" version got the most votes. You can sure tell by that name no one on Madison Avenue contracted with Ubuntu, can't you? Luckily, the operating system generates much more power than the name implies.

Conspiracy fans await Dell betrayal: after a few months, Dell proclaims Linux sells too little and generates too much support headaches. Dell and Microsoft, intertwined tightly from the beginning, are certainly capable of such marketing "hijinks" say the conspiracy fans. Or things could work out well, with no inappropriate marketing influences by major players (says the Easter Bunny).

Another interesting twist is Dell's plan to sell Linux systems from the shelves of Wal-Mart. Holy Markdown, Batman, could this really work? Umm, probably not. Wal-Mart makes news every now and then when they "sell" a new Linux hardware and software package, but always online rather than on-shelf. Dell only dabbled in retail a few years ago, and stuck to their direct sales model. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, earned the name "Wal-Mafia" from suppliers for their heavy-handed tactics and constant price squeezing. I don't see this engagement becoming a successful marriage.

Linux works great as a desktop operating system within certain restrictions with knowledgeable user management. I know people who give Linux systems to their elderly parents and other relatives for e-mail and browsing to avoid the constant spyware and virus hassles. But if the Wal-Mart users start getting upset about the inability to run all the crapware available for free download off the Internet, they won't care how Ubuntu protected them from viruses, they will just want their money back.

Is this a good opportunity for small businesses? Maybe, especially if you've been wanting a Linux laptop for the low price of $599. But nothing here screams 'small businesses rejoice."