Dell and Linux

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Apparently, Dell doesn’t want to be bothered with providing Linux as a general rule to people buying their computers.

Some people don’t like that.

So what?

Dell has decided that they would not be better off generally supporting Linux than not. My best guess is that they think
the technical support required to support plain vanilla Linux users isn’t worth the money they’ll make selling it.

I can see why they could think that, especially given Dell’s obsession with economies of scale. They may be right, it may wrong, but it’s their decision to make.

It’s just like Dell only selling Intel processors. You might want them to sell Athlons, might want them to very much, but there are plenty of other places to go to get that.

If you want a plain-vanilla computer with Linux preinstalled, Dell obviously doesn’t want your business. I’m sure they’re not in complete ignorance of Linux, or that you know something about Linux that they don’t. They just decided they’d be better off not offering it.

This is not evil. You wouldn’t walk into a Ford dealership and denounce them because they wouldn’t sell you a Chevy.

For that matter, it sure doesn’t seem like the big OEMs are exactly beating down the doors for your business, either.

IBM wasn’t mentioned in that linked article. They make a lot of noise about Linux. Went over to the IBM site, and no Linux for the desktop there, either.

If there was this huge pent-up demand for OEM Linux desktops, you’d think somebody would want to make money from it, and would be making a whole lot of money from it. Where are they?

Two Reasons

The easiest and simplest reason for Linux not showing up on desktops is that not too many people pull out the credit card and say, “Give me Linux or nothing.”

Then again, not too many people pull out the checkbook and say “Give me a Mac or nothing” either. That doesn’t stop Apple from existing.

Of course, that small minority of Mac users are willing to pay more to get one, and that’s the root of the problem with Linux and OEMs.

“Money is the root of all evil” may not quite be a Linux mantra, but it’s not too far away from being one in at least some Linux circles. For at least a big minority of Linux users, the whole point to using it is NOT paying.

Would you want to handle Linux technical support full-time for a bunch of Linux or even computer newbies? You would if you got paid enough, but that’s not likely to happen given the mindset of the average purchaser now, would it?

What the commercial Linux providers have essentially done is separate software and support costs. You want support from them, you pay for it. You don’t want to pay for it, you essentially rely on the kindness and charity of other users.

I suppose that works for some, and that’s fine, but if you buy an OS preinstalled from an OEM, the expectation of many is that the company is going to back it up, at least for a while.

You can say that that isn’t really the case with OEMs and Windows, and that’s true. But what else could you expect from greedy Microsoft; the people from whose evil clutches you’re trying to escape from? The whole Linux culture points in the opposite direction, practically saying, “it’s wrong to make money.”

It’s probably safe to say that if OEMs did provide Linux technical support, it likely would cost them somewhat more per user just due to economy of scale. They’d probably get more, longer calls because Linux is on the whole harder to install and set up. I wouldn’t doubt it would cost them more because you can tweak Linux a lot more ways than you can Windows (and possibly get yourself into a lot more different kinds of messes).

None of these is a killer provided people are willing to pay for it. But pay more for a Linux than a Windows box?

You may say, “We wouldn’t need that much technical support.” Well, first, if you’re not a technogeek, and there’s a choice between hunting down a free answer somewhere on the Web or making a free 800 call, what do you think most people are going to do?

Second, in all likelihood, the vast majority of Linux technical support costs will be incurred by the relative newbies. For the first thirty days at least, Dell either provides a lot of tech support or gets a lot of Linux boxes back, neither of which is good for the bottom line.

So either the technically astute end up paying a technical support newbie tax, or they don’t and the per-person support costs for those left make Linux a non-starter.

Something tells me that places like RedHat get a lot of impassioned ideological arguments against paying for support. I can understand OEMs not volunteering for that. 🙂

You can disagree all you like, but you’re not the least bit accountable if you’re wrong. The reality is the people who would be responsible for the bill don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Charity, Taxation and Theft

There is no free lunch. Somebody always pays for it, through time, money and/or effort.

Getting somebody else to pay your bill does not make it free.

If somebody else does so willingly, it is called charity. If the government makes you do so, it’s called taxation. Anything else is theft.

The OEMs obviously don’t think desktop Linux can pay its way given what it is likely to get for it in the tight-margined PC market. For the reasons stated above, they’re more likely to be right than not.

Since they are not charities and they are not government, they don’t offer it.

This is what happens when you don’t pay for something of value. People can’t live doing something for nothing all the time, so if you don’t pay them, they don’t do it. You can’t run an entire economic system based on charity.

The old Marxist slogan, “From each according to their means, to each according to their needs” is a perfect description of the open-source movement. The point is not to resurrect the Red Menace, the point is it just doesn’t work.

Unless it lives off something else. That’s not necessarily bad; the Linux model parasitically relies on the charity of its members, but then, so do children and churches.

So long as this is the result of a voluntary act, there’s no problem. Problems start when it stops being voluntary.

That’s what the Linux folks are effectively demanding from Dell, whether they know it or not. They want beggers to be choosers. They want an entitlement. They want to be able to choose Dell, and demanding somebody else foot that inevitable tech support bill.

And who is that? Ultimately, the Dell buyers who buy Windows machines. Would they do so willingly? Of course not. If the people who use Linux don’t want to pay for the newbies, why in God’s name would the Windows users? Why should people pay for somebody else’s tech support that they’ll never use?

The only way this works is if it’s done on the sneak, buried within Dell’s ledgers.

This obviously isn’t charity, since the “donors” don’t even know about it. Dell isn’t the government, so it’s not taxation. So what does that leave us?

I’m sure many will say something like, “Let Dell pay for it. They can afford it.”

Uhhh, just who the hell are you to demand that Dell (or any other private company) spend their money on you to further your agenda?

Again, it’s one of three things. If you willingly agree to shell out, that’s charity. If the government makes you, it’s taxation. This is neither, so what does that leave us?

These “advocates” seem to have organized themselves into some vigilante group, justifying their demands in the name of “fairness.”

Excuse me, but just what law makes what you call “fairness” the law?

I think governmental power should be left to the government, not to fairness fascists. You think some great societal injustice is being committed, it is government’s job to address them.

Get the government to mandate that Dell and everybody else has to provide for your special interest group. Of course, that won’t happen. “Oh, Mr. Congressman, please make those bad computer companies give us a free ride.”

Have you noticed that folks like these prefer force rather than competition to get their way? “If you can’t beat them, get somebody with a bigger club.”

Unfortunately, the usual club for folks with this mindset, government, isn’t cooperating too well. I think a lot of people fantasied that the government was going to break up MS (like you could really break up an OS), a fantasy which turned into a delusion after the appeals court ruled.

You want to say the DOJ really let MS off too easily, I’d be inclined to agree, but nothing short of nuclear weapons dropped on Redmond would have essentially changed MS’s practical OS monopoly.

By the way, just being an effective monopoly is not illegal, and it’s not going to become illegal no matter how many time you say it. Certain actions taken by companies with an effective monopoly are illegal, but breakup is the most extreme and last resort.

Maybe that’s what you would do if you were the law, but that’s not the real law. If you don’t like that, change the law, don’t play Judge Dredd.

If you can’t change the law, then maybe it would be better to start making products average people might actually want.

This is not to say Microsoft is the Virgin Mary or even Mr. Rogers. This is not to say MS does whatever it can to keep competitors away, legally or otherwise. But you are simply out of your mind if you think this would be a Linux (and/or Mac) world if only Microsoft weren’t so evil.

If Linux were better than MS OSs for the average person, you might have a point, but not even nondelusional Linux fans can say that with a straight face. Does it have certain advantages for certain people? Sure, but those advantages are not advantages to the average person.

Even if you were dead right about this being an MS world due to their sins, this is about as useful in changing that situation as “what if the South had won the Civil War?” They didn’t. Deal with now, not some alternate history fantasy.

Want proof that this isn’t all MS’s fault? You need go no farther than Linux itself. Linux does very well in the server industry. That’s because it’s a very competitive product in that market. There’s no problem with OEMs supporting Linux there. If MS were such an irresistible bastion of evil and could stop anybody from offering Linux, how could this be?

You want Linux to rule on the desktop? Make a competitive product most people want. Build it and they will come.

Don’t expect the government to make you popular or destroy your competition. Understand that Linux is not and will never be the moral equivalent of AIDS. Realize that far more people hate what you love about Linux, and until you out-MS MS and give (not promise) the masses what they want rather than make them do what you want, you’ll never be more than a niche on the desktop (and, BTW, that’s OK).

Stop living in fantasy worlds like this one, where Microsoft would be forced to pay damages for introducing a GUI, among other things.

That path only leads you to the lunatic fringe.

I don’t dislike Linux. I do dislike lunatic extremists of any stripe (and most Linux users are not like this). If the Linux loonies took the time and effort they spend proselytising and put it into programming (or making money during that time to help pay for more programming), Linux would be in a lot better shape.

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