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January 12, 2004

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MozillaQuest Op-Ed

Does Dell Support Linux?

Mike Angelo -- 12 January 2004 (C) -- Page 1

Article Index
To learn why Linux is so much a better choice than is Microsoft Windows, please see our article Gaël Duval Tells Why Mandrake Linux Is Better Than MS Windows

To learn how to run MS Windows-based software and accessories in GNU-Linux, please see our article Crossover Office 2.1 Runs MS Windows Software on GNU-Linux Systems

Giving Back to the Infrastructure:

Perhaps one of the largest contributors, if not the largest contributor, to Open Source and Free Software infrastructure and promotion is VA Software Corporation and its Open Source Development Network (OSDN). Through its OSDN, VA Software provides Internet and Web hosting services for thousands of Open Source and Free Software projects through SourceForge. Other important Open Source and Free Software OSDN projects that provide infrastructure to and help to promote Open Source and Free Software projects include Freshmeat, NewsForge, and Slashdot. Links in the Resources section at the end of this article.

These days many computer companies appear to be embracing the GNU-Linux operating system. But are they really supporting Linux and the Open Source and Free Software movements -- or are they just exploiting them? More than likely, it probably is some of both.

Today, we take a look at how Dell stands up to review of its support of GNU-Linux, and other Open Source and Free Software. In this review of Dell's support of GNU-Linux, and other Open Source and Free Software, Dell comes up short -- at best Dell's support is merely token support. In part that is because there is a substantial difference in what Dell says it does and what its salespeople actually are doing.

Exploiting or Supporting GPL-ed Software

Are you wondering how exploiting is an issue? If so, please consider that the Linux kernel, GNU-Linux, and most Open Source and Free Software is developed and distributed under the GNU GPL (General Public License). Simply put, that means the source code for such GPL-ed software is open to the public, may be modified by anyone, and may be freely (as in free beer) distributed and used. Moreover, it must be freely distributed.

Volunteers, who get paid nothing for their work, do much of the architecture and code development work for GNU-Linux and other Open Source and Free Software. In some instances, companies or other organizations are paying people to develop Linux kernel, GNU-Linux operating system, and other Open Source and Free Software code. Either way, the code development and project infrastructure are contributed to the public at no charge to the public -- through the volunteer efforts and contributions of individuals, companies, and organizations.

Commercial GNU-Linux Distribution

Under the GPL, the Linux kernel and the GNU-Linux operating system must be distributed free. Yet, there are commercial Linux distributions that cost money. How can those Linux distributors charge for a free product? Are they not exploiting the good deeds of the volunteer efforts and contributions of individuals, companies, and organizations that contribute code and project infrastructure?

In part, the answer to that is that they are not charging for the Linux kernel or for the GNU-Linux OS. Rather they are charging for added value.

Added Value

The added value concept encompasses such things as the CD(s) that contain the GNU-Linux OS, user guides/manuals, and the shrink-wrap retail box for the distribution. It also includes adding desktops such as GNOME or KDE, applications such as OpenOffice and the GIMP, installers, configuration tools, documentation, and lots more into the distribution and integrating all of that so everything works -- and works together.

Nevertheless, are they not exploiting the good deeds of the volunteer efforts and contributions of individuals, companies, and organizations that contribute code and project infrastructure in order to make a buck?

No. It's true that Linux distribution providers (LDPs), such as Conectiva, Mandrake, and SUSE for example, sell commercial versions of their GNU-Linux distributions. But they also give lots back to the GNU-Linux and other Open Source and Free Software communities.

To better understand how a Linux dsitribution is built on top of the Linux kernel and GNU-Linux OS please see Anatomy of a Linux Distribution.

Giving Back to the Linux, Open Source, and Free Software Communities

These community-minded LDPs, such as Conectiva, Mandrake, and SUSE for example, are constantly promoting GNU-Linux and other Open Source and Free Software. They contribute code to the Linux kernel, the GNU-Linux operating system and other Open Source and Free Software. They pay people to help develop Linux kernel, GNU-Linux, and other Open Source and Free Software code. LDPs such as Conectiva, Mandrake, and SUSE give back lots to the GNU-Linux and other Open Source and Free Software communities. Please see Giving Back to the Infrastructure in the right-hand sidebar above.

But how about the computer manufacturers and other ISVs (independent system vendors) that put GNU-Linux and other Open Source and Free Software on systems -- and charge for doing that? Are they exploiting the tremendous amount of volunteer work and effort that goes into developing the Linux kernel, the GNU-Linux operating system, and other Open Source and Free Software? Or, are they supporting the GNU-Linux OS and other Open Source and Free Software communities too?

Let's take a look that question.

Does Dell Support or Exploit GNU-Linux?

A friend called Dell a few days after Christmas 2003 to order a computer. Frankly, this writer was very surprised at what the friend had to say about his experiences with Dell.

The friend asked if he could get Linux instead of Windows XP for the Dell computer's operating system. He was told no by the Dell salesperson. He also was told that if he installed Linux on a Dell computer it would void the warranty.

This writer called the Dell order-takers to verify this. It was as the friend said. A MozillaQuest Magazine technical editor also called Dell to double-verify this. He got the same anti-Linux crap from Dell and also was very much surprised by it.

Moreover, the Dell salespeople said that any software or hardware installed, but not purchased through Dell, would void the warranty.

That scenario means that Dell customers do not have freedom to select, purchase, and install software or hardware on Dell computers without voiding the warranty. That discourages, if not prevents, Dell customers from installing Linux on their Dell computers. Moreover, it discourages, if not prevents, Dell customers from installing Open Source Software and Free Software on their Dell computers.

While Dell seems to be aiming its PR at being friendly to and supportive of Linux, in practice Dell seems to be un-friendly and hostile to Linux, Open Source Software, and Free Software.

One reason for the double-verification was to see if perhaps the anti-Linux rhetoric was the work of just one Dell salesperson or a common practice of Dell as a whole. Because the tech editor and this writer talked to different sales people, and likely the friend talked to yet a different sales person, the indication seems to be that the anti-Linux attitude is a policy of Dell's sales people -- which makes it a de facto Dell policy.

We all used the same 800-433-5904 number for Dell and followed the menuing for home/consumer desktops.

  • See Dell's Response on Page 2 ----->

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