Dell users demand Linux on laptops

Dell leaders are considering a request by users for laptops running on Linux instead of Windows.

The new team of leaders at Dell is weighing a request to give customers the option to purchase PCs with the Linux OS, instead of the default Windows, after thousands of users voted for that idea on a company blog.

The idea appeared Friday on a company-hosted blog called Dell Idea Storm. CEO Michael Dell unveiled the blog Feb. 16 as part of his effort to reinvigorate the struggling company. Dell said he hoped to use the blog to collect users' feedback and improve customer service.

Since then, company executives and department heads have been monitoring the site, paying closest attention to the ideas winning the most votes, Dell spokeswoman Caroline Dietz said on Wednesday.

The most popular threads on Wednesday included demands for Linux-based laptops, consumer PCs that are not pre-loaded with unsolicited applications and requests for Sun Microsystems's OpenOffice applications instead of Microsoft's Office suite. Popular requests also included a preference for Mozilla's Firefox Web browser instead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and pleas for Dell to stop routing service calls to operators in overseas countries such as India.

Dell leaders have heard those ideas "loud and clear," and plan to post a statement on the blog this week explaining how they will react, Dietz said. But she warned that the company would judge ideas on more than just their popularity.

"Just because an idea is number one or number two doesn't necessarily mean Dell will do it, but it does mean it will receive the highest level of attention," she said.

Dell has already changed the blog rules to make the voting more accurate, after the site was flooded over the weekend by certain users clicking multiple times on their favorite links, Dietz said. Beginning Wednesday, Dell required users to register, ensuring that each person can vote just once for each posting.

Another misleading aspect of popular threads is that each vote awards postings 10 "points," meaning that the Linux thread has about six thousand supporters, not the posted number of 67,703. The second-most popular thread -- the request for OpenOffice -- has 40,572 points, and a plea to avoid unwanted software applications has 27,476 points. Most other ideas on the 95-page blog have won only a handful of votes.

Despite the blog's problems, Dell will someday decide to sell Linux-based PCs in their consumer market, experts say.

"Look, they already have a strong partnership with Red Hat and Oracle to move Linux into the enterprise server space. I think what they're waiting for is some more compelling applications to show up on Linux for personal use. Think about what you use your laptop for -- it's usually office, games, music and Internet access. When all of these things come together in a consumer-friendly, seamless way there will be a case for Dell to adopt Linux on portables to sell to the masses," said Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics.

"My 84 year-old father-in-law only needs his PC for light word processing and for AOL access. He can get plenty of Linux word processors -- but where's AOL Linux? When the right applications show up, and when they are integrated, it will all come together," Clabby said.

Fixing Dell's finances could call for such a bold move. Once a Wall Street darling thanks to its innovative "direct sales" business model, Dell has struggled in recent months with falling profits, an accounting investigation by federal stock regulators, a lawsuit by disgruntled investors, a notebook battery recall and finally the resignation on Jan. 31 of Dell's hand-picked successor as CEO, Kevin Rollins.

Since resuming his job as CEO of the company he founded in 1984, Dell has moved quickly to restore investors' confidence by ousting several long-time executives and replacing them with leaders from outside technology companies including Motorola Inc. and Selectron Corp.

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Ben Ames

IDG News Service

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