Dell knows what's best for Linux users

ubuntu dell
One of the complaints lodged against Linux systems is that they update too frequently. Die-hard Linux users compulsively update their systems, always running the latest bleeding edge version of the kernel or various applications. At least, that’s the impression that many non-Linux users have about die-hard Linux users. Dell, who have been offering Linux on some laptops for two years now, have recently made it known that they won’t be updating to the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu any time soon.

Dell offers Ubuntu 8.04 on the systems it sells. That version is now a year old, and two subsequent releases have hit the streets, each offering significant improvements in terms of system updates. Important security fixes are released for the older 8.04 version, but new features and system updates are not.

The gang at BetaNews got ahold of a Dell spokesperson for some info on this:

“We are trying to stay on a 12-month cadence to keep costs down, and build a stable platform,” a Dell spokesperson said in an e-mail to Betanews late last night. “A mainstream user does not care if it’s [Ubuntu Linux] 8.04 or 8.10 or 9.04 (he/she does not know what those are) — she just wants it to work right and be stable/safe…Most of the Linux enthusiasts would not like to be so far behind (i.e., 8.04 vs. 9.04), but they are not our primary target audience for the [operating system] image.”

Dell’s doing the right thing: they’re focusing on giving a rock-solid system to the average consumer. Dell gets to minimize the changes between systems, which will reduce their support costs, and users get a system that’s well supported.

It’s a fine line to walk, though, because the newer versions of Ubuntu offer some strong incentives to upgrade. I’ve experienced substantially better startup and shutdown times with Ubuntu 9.04. Newer version of Firefox, OpenOffice, and other applications also mean enhanced functionality.

Dell goes a lot farther than they need to with the way they support Ubuntu:

“In addition to 8.04, we chose to control our updates (via our own update repository — similar to MS update). We go the extra mile in double qualifying all updates (that one would see in stock 8.10 and 9.04) and only publish those that are rock-stable. We will [put in] select features over the course of the year that make sense for the product, like wireless improvements,” according to Dell spokespersons.

By having a Dell-specific repository for software updates, they’re making themselves a one-stop shop for all things Ubuntu on their hardware. The folks who want to explore the wealth of additional free software available to Ubuntu users can add additional repositories, but the average user just looking for a reliable, supported system should be extremely well served by Dell’s repository, and the work they do to make the packages secure and stable.

We talk a lot about “Linux on the Desktop”, and we have no shortage of opinions and ideas on how that’s coming along, and how to make it better. I think Dell’s a good example of how to make Linux on the desktop a success, and I’m looking forward to their continued support.