November 21, 2001

Linux ... everywhere?

Author: JT Smith

- by Jack Bryar -
"Linux is everywhere" according to a Dell slogan. But if that's
the case how come its so difficult to buy a Linux system from them?
Based on my recent online shopping trip it is a wonder that they have sold
any Linux systems at all. You can't buy what you can't see. In fact, virtually
all of the major hardware vendors have gone out of their way to bury Linux
alternatives among their product offerings. The one exception is a company
that no one thought was much of a friend to Open Source.

As you may have noticed, Dell is still catching
a bit of flak
about its attitude towards Linux systems. Ever
since the company ran away from Linux for
the desktop
last August, they continue to come up with creative
ways to annoy what The Register's
John Lettice called the Open Source Mullahs. The suggestion that Linux
is so special and odd that it requires banishment to Dell's Custom
Factory Integration
dungeon is bound to offend, but it's not necessarily
inaccurate. After all, the reason most folks pick through the cooked
stew that is the Open Source codebase is because they want to create a unique software configuration. It is quite reasonable of the Dell folks
to suggest that you might want that image replicated to your new Dell servers
(or desktops) rather than shipping off a box with a a bunch of Red Hat

However, in order to be able to opt for this service, you'd need to
be able to locate the appropriate boxes on Dell's website and connect them
up to this "service." You can't buy what you can't see. I started shopping
for some of my business clients last week, and I was amazed at the degree
to which Dell went out of its way to hide their Linux systems. I was looking
to get prices and configurations to feed a business plan for a specialty
marketing shop that relocates European tech businesses to North America.
In addition, I was shopping for a collective of contract technical writers
who have been winning more business than they can support. Both firms
had a collection of personal boxes and not much else. Neither firm needed
anything fancy, just a low-cost generic server farm capable of supporting
a highly dispersed client base. It sure seemed like a simple project, and
Linux was a cheap, obvious solution.

What wasn't obvious was how to to buy it at Dell.

The company recently sent an open
to its customers about Linux and Dell, but if you didn't get
the letter you would never know there was a URL involving Dell and Linux.
If you simply began began at the Dell web site as I did, you wouldn't know
the company had any relationship with Linux. Over the weekend, I padded
around the Dell site looking for a reasonably inexpensive Dell system pre-installed
with a current version of Linux -- and I couldn't find one.

Dell announced Monday that it was offering factory installation of Red
Hat 7.2 on its Precision and PowerEdge server products, but as of late
Monday night your options were still:

    Windows 2000 Server,5 Client Access Licenses,English,4GB, Partition [add
    MS Windows NT Server 4.0 [add $799]
    Windows NT4,Backup Domain Controller [add $799]
    Netware 5.1 with 5 New User Licenses, NFI Image [add $749]
    Netware 5.1 with 5 User Upgrade Licenses, NFI Image [add $399]
    No Operating System(OTHER)

(they did finally get Red Hat on

their options page before noon on Tuesday)

They also linked to an "advisory" concerning

how great Windows 2000 was. On their big machines, like the


Dell offered telephone support for Linux for just a little under $900.
Combined with the cost of the OS, the package was more expensive than a
five license package from Microsoft. There was also no link to the customization
factory from any Linux box that I could find.

I remain puzzled about why the company is unable to provide a Linux
install on its desktops
except that it would mean that they would have to remove the proclamation
that "Dell PCs use genuine Microsoft® Windows®" that blinks at
you from the bottom of nearly every page on Dell's website. Perhaps the
company thought that Linux options would be confusing to the customer,
although I'd be surprised how anyone could be more confused than they would
be reading about the section regarding
choosing between  "FAT 32" or NTFS
if you bought a Windows XP
machine. Perhaps it is because they are concerned about Linux's reputation
for never being quite finished. Although they were happy to offer customers
their 7300 workstations installed with Windows XP-64 Beta

OS   --  but I digress.

Moving on to other vendors, Linux evangelist HP continues to offer "Linux
Enabled" desktops --- that come pre-configured
with Windows
. You can buy Linux on "selected
" though their "business store" but you'll be  hard
pressed to find a box.
A search for Linux on the business store generates
36 results in order of relevance. Dead last are any boxes with Linux on
them - which turn out to be a set of  i2000 and x1000 series workstations,
and the i2000 series support Linux but don't necessarily come with Linux. 
You can also find a find a nice link to Aalburg
, which the company recommends as its support
. So much for taking the Linux community seriously.

Mostly to amuse myself, I looked at Gateway. Gateway offers two options
on its lower end models, Windows
or nothing
. Unlike their competitors they don't even offer Novell 
-- and if you plan to run Windows 2000 in mixed mode, keeping your NT boxes
for a while, you still are going to pay for 5 client licenses. To be fair
they do offer Netware 5.1 on their higher-end 8400 series, but unlike any
of their competitors they charge more
for Netware than 2000.

The best suite of Linux offerings came from Compaq.

That was a surprise. Compaq has spent far fewer marketing dollars than many
other hardware firms in promoting Open Source. In addition, the company
has been Microsoft's favorite equipment manufacturer. I recently studied
early corporate adopters of Windows 2000, and virtually every one of them
used Compaq servers, usually from their ProLiant series.

Just like their competitors, there's no desktops available (or if they
have them, they hide them). Their Presarios come in one flavor -- Windows
and XP
. Their Evo boxes come with optional "business software" and they

even bother to specify who the vendor is. However, they don't hide
away their Linux servers. They also don't hide the fact that a Linux customer
might need a little help. Unlike their competitors, they provide Linux
Newbies with

information about which Linux/hardware combinations work and which
don't. They also carry an electronic

line card with plenty of OS options. There's a way to go before Linux
will have parity with Microsoft. There's only 8 ProLiant configurations
pre-loaded with Linux compared to 44 systems offering various flavors of
Windows, but a lot of the Windows boxes will be withdrawn soon, and the
company plans to add another 18 Linux configurations. Linux software gets
equal billing among
the company's rather extensive offering of platforms, and Microsoft is
only one option of several. 

Linux may not be everywhere, but at least this company doesn't hide
it away.

Happy shopping.


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