Will Dell Help or Hurt Rival Linux PC Suppliers?

Here’s some interesting commentary from Cathy Malmrose of ZAreason.com, a small supplier of PCs with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled. I asked Cathy if Dell’s move into the Ubuntu market would help or hurt ZAreason’s business.

Sure, I gave her a loaded softball question. Naturally, she thinks Dell promoting Ubuntu is a win-win for the Linux industry and ZAreason. However, take a closer look at what she had to say and you’ll see some interesting perspective. Cathy notes that there might be multiple market niches for Ubuntu desktop systems over the long haul.

In her comments, posted here, Cathy indicates that “We don’t necessarily compete with Dell because we are focused more on:
1. the long-time Linux advocates (they send us valuable feedback on our systems, how they have tweaked their systems),
2. areas other than the US (the US Dept of Commerce is very helpful to exporters), and
3. the Maker Faire crowd, ie people who want to mess with their hardware and still be covered under warranty.”

I think Cathy may have a point. I don’t fit any of the three market segments that she describes. I’m more of an early adopter rather than a long-time Linux advocate. So my first Ubuntu PC purchase involves a brand I already know: Dell. I suppose there are thousands of other people just like me. And thousands more who fit into the three niches that Cathy described.

But over the long haul, I think Cathy’s three Ubuntu niches will likely resemble today’s white box Windows industry — where resellers purchase industry standard components and then put their own brands on the systems.

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6 thoughts on “Will Dell Help or Hurt Rival Linux PC Suppliers?

  1. > But over the long haul, I think Cathy’s three Ubuntu niches will likely resemble today’s white box Windows industry

    It makes me cringe to be compared to the Windows industry, but if you’re saying that in the future, Ubuntu will have enough market share that someone who buys one of our laptops can go to their local Fry’s and buy new hardware to extend the life of their system, then yeah, that’s good.

    Please note that we build them to be solid enough for the non-geek Joe and Jane who want it to “just work”, but we believe it is crucial to provide open hardware to those who want it. It is not that hard to do. Our prices are in the same ballpark as Dell’s but our approach to hardware is different.

  2. Cathy,

    I notice that your company also makes mini PC’s. If you’re going after the Linux aficionado, then here’s an idea. Consider also the option of the VIA C7 CPU; these things run at 2GHz now and have crypto performance that rivals Cisco’s biggest gear, the ASA 5550. Here’s why:

    1.) Good (not great, but certainly good enough) performance overall, and since it runs at 2.0GHz, it doesn’t “look slow” compared to, say, “1.9GHz.” If you remember the C3, then the C7 fixes a lot of the performance problems of the C3. Yep, an Intel Core CPU still will certainly beat it clock-for-clock, but then see Item #2.

    2.) Ultra-low power consumption. The 2GHz chip sucks 20W at full tilt. For those geeky folks like me, we usually have more than one computer and therefore appreciate lowered electric bills. Some of them (e. g. the 1.0GHz CPU), you can actually run fanless, but to keep your model types at a sane level, I’d stick w/ just the 2GHz chip.

    3.) UniChrome graphics. This is VIA’s answer to Intel’s integrated graphics. It is a rather good graphics chip that not only generally outperforms Intel graphics, but it is also well supported by the OpenChrome driver. Yes, that includes 3-D mode. 🙂

    Is this something your company might consider as an option?

  3. You’re quite welcome. It’s neat to see a company, like yours, that actually gives users a real alternative to MS Windows by default.

  4. It’s official: Dell with HELP them. Dell is apparently refusing to sell its Ubuntu PC’s to small businesses, non-profits, schools–anybody *except* for *individual* home users.

    ZaReason is looking better and better. I see why Ken “Helios” Starks recommends you.

  5. There is another excellent reason Dell will never compete with the likes of Zareason: Service and support. I started my relationship with Zareason because the company I purchased my first laptop from (also with Ubuntu pre-installed) would not support 64-bit ubuntu, so I sent it back. I requested 64-bit from Zareason and their response was, sure, we’ll run it through our R&D lab and get back to you. When they reported it worked with “flying colors”, I ordered a laptop from them. I sent them a short email asking if they had put 64-bit on the laptop, and the quick response was yes, never hurts to ask, and is there any thing else you’d like?

    I thought about it and requested no LVM (I know, just lost a bunch of you) and a specific partitioning on the Hard drive. Answer again was no problem. I told them I needed a rush on it, and for no charge they built, tested, and shipped it in 24 hours.

    That will never happen at Dell (or HP, or …). Why? Because they are a mega-company and customer service has never been a strong point with any mega corp – they just do not have the resources to get, keep, and organize quality people for their service.

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