Dell Dumps Desktop Linux

Dell Computer Corp. is no longer shipping its PCs pre-installed with the Linux operating system. The reason? According to the company, low demand from its desktop and notebook customers. However, Dell will continue to offer Linux—specifically, the Red Hat distribution—to its corporate customers, as well as in its workstations and servers, said Dell spokesperson Sarah Lavender.

"We started offering [the Linux OS] about a year ago in anticipation of spill-over demand from servers," Lavender said in a published report. "But we've seen pretty flat demand."

The announcement from the Texas-based computer maker was not unexpected. In May, Dell executives began making noises about the open-source OS having more potential on the server side. The collapse of Eazel—the open-source GUI developer for the Gnome environment—which ceased operations on May 15, didn't help. Many took the company's demise as a sign that Linux on the desktop was failing to pan out.

In June, Intel CEO Craig Barrett said he didn't see much of a future for Linux on the desktop. A lack of desktop applications for Linux, he noted, is holding back acceptance of the OS among PC users. "The role of Linux is not so much in the desktop, but in the server or back office," Barrett said. "It is not made for the general-purpose PC."

According to industry analysts, Linux currently commands less than 2% of that market.

Although confidence in Linux as a client-side OS appears to be waning in many quarters, Linux continues to have an undaunted impact on the server side. Dell says it will continue to offer workstations and servers with Red Hat Linux (Version 7.1) pre-installed. The company has also said it will continue to offer Red Hat Linux to larger customers who wish to custom-configure desktop PCs or notebooks with the operating system.

And Barrett's comments notwithstanding, Intel has actively supported efforts to port Linux to its 64-bit architecture, IA-64. Most Linux servers run on Intel hardware, though many of them are not sold with Linux pre-installed.

But Linux on the desktop is hardly a dead idea. Eazel wasn't the only initiative developing a simpler Linux interface; the Gnome and KDE desktop environments have enormous momentum. For example, Boston-based Ximian, known primarily as a Gnome maker, has come up with some serious productivity apps for Linux, including: Evolution, an E-mail, calendar, address book and task list app; Red Carpet, a software management application; and Gnumeric, a spreadsheet app. Eazel's one success, a graphical shell for Gnome called Nautilus, is still alive and kicking. Nautilus is seen as a solid piece of software that continues to attract open-source developers.

And Linux continues to enjoy big-time support from at least one heavy-hitter: Hewlett-Packard. HP is backing several desktop-Linux initiatives, and currently sells Linux on some desktop PCs sold in developing countries. Last year, HP hired Bruce Perens to serve as its Linux and open source evangelist. Perens is credited as the primary author of the Open Source Definition, the formative document of the open source movement. Perens says HP is committed to driving Linux into the mass market.

Perens considers dismissing Linux on the desktop as shortsighted. "Consider the age of the Linux desktop," he said in an interview earlier this year. "Development started from zero sometime in 1997. It's almost maturation time for that desktop, and four years is a lot less time than it has taken any other desktop project to get to the level that Gnome or KDE are at."

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].