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Dell and the time of the Linux desktop

So, Dell is finally going to be offering computers with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled, and there are rumours that HP, Lenovo, Toshiba et. al. will follow suit. And of course, the Linux world is in celebration and is saying, “The Linux Desktop is for real. Linux has proven that it can compete in the same league with Mac OS and Windows.” (via)

I don’t think that statement really reflects the ground truth. In one sense, the Linux desktop was “ready” to compete with Windows etc. quite a while ago (I’ve been using Linux on my main system for at least four years now). It’s much easier to get up to speed on Linux now than a decade ago, and the average person (with zero Linux experience) can manage to install and even use it for most tasks if they break their heads on it for a while. On the other hand, Linux still isn’t yet ready to be distributed to the masses, or “grandma-ready” as people like to call it. Extremetech reviewed Feisty Fawn and found that a lot of things like DVD playback etc. were still lacking. I’m willing to bet that in the next couple of years grandparents and housewives are far from likely to be the main customers of Dell’s Linux offerings.

What has actually happened, is that Linux geeks have become a market force to reckon with. There are far more casual hackers, computer science graduates, OS adventure-seekers and serious Linux workers in the world today than a few years ago. Dell has realized (and others soon will) that it’s a very competitive market these days and selling hardware to Linux geeks can actually make a difference to the bottom line – profit. And that’s why they’re taking the Linux plunge. Because one of the most popular questions on laptop and Linux forums is “which hardware does Linux run best on?” Not because Linux has crossed some threshold at this point of time that makes it suitable for the masses.

This is good news, of course. Once someone as big as Dell realizes this, it will (hopefully) hit hardware manufacturers and software developers sooner and make one of the biggest headaches of Linux disappear – lack of hardware (driver) and software support from companies.

Will Linux ever truly be ready for the masses – and become something of an OS X? Eventually, yes. Someone will realize that it’s actually quite simple to have Linux running all the users want to run (as long as you ignore the everything-must-be-free-as-in-speech mantra), and then actually do it, and then actually market it to the masses as such. Maybe it’ll be Canonical with Ubuntu, maybe it’ll be Linspire, maybe Xandros or maybe Novell. I think it will still take a few years before Linux becomes mainstream though.