The trouble with asking your customers what they want is sometimes they tell you and it is not what you were expecting to hear. Case in point, Dell requesting just such feedback 10 days ago and being inundated with thousands of customers and, one assumes more importantly, potential customers yelling loud and clear: “open source software please, and do not forget the Linux OS.”

So what is newly reinstated CEO Michael Dell going to do about the suggestions received at the IdeaStorm site? Using a Digg style vote and promote system, the undeniable top suggestion has been for Pre-Installed Linux/Ubuntu/Fedora/OpenSUSE/Multi-Boot with an astonishing 83539 votes. That is 30,000 votes ahead of the nearest contender, for pre-installed OpenOffice software.

Here is the official Dell response:

“It’s exciting to see the IdeaStorm community’s interest in open source solutions like Linux and OpenOffice. Your feedback has been all about flexibility and we have seen a consistent request to provide platforms that allow people to install their operating system of choice. We are listening, and as a result, we are working with Novell to certify our corporate client products for Linux, including our OptiPlex desktops, Latitude notebooks and Dell Precision workstations. This is another step towards ensuring that our customers have a good experience with Linux on our systems.

As this community knows, there is no single customer preference for a distribution of Linux. In the last week, the IdeaStorm community suggested more than half a dozen distributions. We don't want to pick one distribution and alienate users with a preference for another. We want users to have the opportunity to help define the market for Linux on desktop and notebook systems. In addition to working with Novell, we are also working with other distributors and evaluating the possibility of additional certifications across our product line. We are continuing to investigate your other Linux-related ideas, so please continue to check here for updates.”

So I guess that is thanks but no thanks then? And I guess you have to say, who can blame them. While Linux remains less than consumer friendly, the very idea of adding to the support cost by pre-installing it is enough to make a company looking to regain market share and value shiver to the bone. As the official statement says, there is then the small question of which distribution to consider, and given the rivalry in the Linux evangelist world that would be far from an easy decision to make.

The simple truth is that Linux is still not ready for the big time, by which I mean the mass-market, non-computer savvy, it has to just work consumer. Hardware and software compatibility issues need to be resolved before it would make any sense at all for a company such as Dell to start investing in a mass market Linux push.

And there lies the rub, it is a PC world paradox because without the kind of investment in hearts, minds and wallets that a Dell deal could bring that compatibility just is not going to happen any time soon…

About the Author

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

I think, the first test of whether someone is serious and capable of using Linux, is if they're prepared to risk/able to install the distro they want into their existing machine. If one can't, or more likely won't bother to do that, then one is perhaps better suited to Windows XP. Or hey.. Windows Vista O_o

I use Linux happily on a Dell PC sold with Windows XP. I have Windows XP still on one partition, Linux Mandrake 10 on one partition (I use that most of the time these days), and hey.. Windows 98 on another partition (for a hardware reason).

The only problem I have; is that I bought a printer/scanner/copier recently without checking to see if a Linux driver existed.. and guess what? it doesn't, and the printer manufacturers have no plans to release one.

I think, better than 'putting Linux on the pc' would be 'putting nothing on the pc'. Most linux distros are free, and it could lower the cost of a new PC if a Windows license isn't included in the costing. Infact, when I bought this computer, I think the OS was optional. (I did buy just the PC tower rather than a package, so, perhaps that's why)

Although that statistic indicates some desire for Linux as an out-of-the-box OS, I'm pretty sure most of Dell's customers still want the latest Windows on their PC... under the circumstances, I wouldn't see it as an injustice if they didn't pander to the needs of a few, at a potentially vast logistic cost.

I think that the most difficult aspect of Linux to most people is the install. Once its on (and all the hardware is working) doing most day to day things really aren't that hard. Even installing software is a breeze with tools like Ubuntu's add/remove applications thing (which I think is an simplified synaptic gui).

To the non-tech savvy I think a clean install of Windows is just as daunting as a install of Ubuntu/SuSE/Fedora.

Linux won't become mainstream any time soon but hopefully the slightly tech savvy people who a few years ago would just use pirate Windows discs may consider it as a legal alternative.