The Ubuntu love between Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Canonical (which has been heating up in recent months after a long lull) continued to grow this week. Indeed, Dell's Alienware gaming laptops gained Ubuntu Linux options. At a time when Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) may loan Dell roughly $2 billion, Dell is aggressively promoting Ubuntu in a way it hasn't done since circa 2008.
For $599, customers can now purchase an X51 laptop from Alienware, a subsidiary of Dell, with Canonical's Linux-based Ubuntu operating system preinstalled. The move follows Dell's release of the "Sputnik" laptop, a high-end XPS 13 designed for cloud developers and powered by Ubuntu that the company introduced late last year in the United States market. The Alienware machine also appears to be the first example of Dell's making good on promises in late March to add new Linux options.
The apparent recommitment by Dell to shipping hardware with Ubuntu preinstalled marks a major change from the OEM's previous Linux offerings. Although Dell introduced Ubuntu-powered laptops and PCs to great fanfare in 2007, its promotion of Ubuntu and its options in this niche shrank during subsequent years. Dell never stopped selling Ubuntu hardware, but it seemed for a while to have put it on the back-burner.
Talking Up Ubuntu
But that was then, this is now. Today, beyond offering Ubuntu preinstalled on new types of laptops tailored to specific audiences, Dell is taking the further step of saying some very nice things about Ubuntu in promotional material for the Alienware laptop.
On the Alienware website, Dell calls Ubuntu "Simple and Stylish" and "Fast and Secure." It also praises the operating system's extensive line-up of free applications and even Canonical's Ubuntu One cloud service for storing data. And most remarkably, it lauds Ubuntu as an excellent platform for gaming via Steam for Linux.
That's a huge deal. Even just a year ago, if I had seen a site connected to Dell that promoted a Linux-based operating system as ideal for gaming, I would have assumed someone had hacked it as an April Fools' joke. Back then, there was no indication that Dell intended to return its Ubuntu offerings to the fore (or that any OEM was going to take Linux seriously as a gaming platform).
Now, of course, it remains to be seen how customers respond to the new horizons Dell is opening in the open source niche. In this regard, the pricing shouldn't hurt: With 6 gigabytes of memory, a high-resolution display and a flashy video card, the base model of the Ubunt Alienware laptop seems like a pretty good buy at $599. But that's not all. It's actually priced a full $100 lower than the comparable Windows model, suggesting that Dell has learned something over the years from complaints that it did not price Ubuntu PCs competitively, especially since it paid no licensing fees for the software on them.
Still, the gamer market is one where Linux has rarely ventured before, and it may represent a tough demographic for Dell and Canonical to conquer.
Either way, this is a remarkable development that could have major ramifications for the rest of the channel. Stay tuned as it unfolds.