Dell's Linux Problem
Daniel Lyons 05.07.07, 5:00 PM ET
Dell became a hero to Linux fans worldwide when it announced last week that it would begin selling PCs loaded with the Linux operating system instead of Microsoft's Windows.
But a week later Dell (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ) may have blown that good will away. Monday the Round Rock,
That's because many of the people who embrace Linux--the open source operating system that is maintained and supported by a community of volunteers--are very particular about the kind of Linux they want to hug. And Dell's decision to work with Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) and Novell (nasdaq: NOVL - news - people ) to promote Novell’s version of Linux is not going to go over well.
Microsoft and Novell last year started working together to make their software programs interact more smoothly. Microsoft even agreed to help sell Novell’s version of Linux. The idea was to help customers who want to use both Windows and Linux.
And importantly, Microsoft and Novell also agreed not to sue each other over intellectual property.
Linux fans went nuts. Why? Because they hate Microsoft. They viewed the deal as a way for Microsoft to assert that Linux violated some Microsoft patents. Novell, by going along, was collaborating with the enemy, they said.
Linux loyalists flamed Novell on message boards and Web sites, with many saying they would stop using Novell products. There’s even a requisite Web site calling for customers to boycott Novell.
Now Dell has become a collaborator too. The company already sells Red Hat's (nyse: RHT - news - people ) Linux, but says a lot of its customers are interested in the “[intellectual property] assurance” that Novell and Microsoft offer.
Dell is a longtime Microsoft ally, but it has been taking on water for the past year. If embracing Linux helps bail it out, it will embrace Linux.
“I’ve got to focus on delivering the best products that our customers are asking for,” says Rick Becker, vice president of solutions at Dell.
Recently, Linux supporters swarmed Dell after the company put up a Web site called IdeaStorm asking for suggestions. Like teenage girls voting for Sanjaya on American Idol, thousands of Linux fans wrote to Dell and “voted” for PCs loaded with Linux, making this the No. 1 request on IdeaStorm.
Dell responded by announcing it would sell PCs bearing a version of Linux called Ubuntu. It’s not clear yet how many customers will actually buy these machines.
But that point may be moot. By agreeing to do business with Microsoft and Novell, Dell risks becoming a pariah in the Linux community.