Dell Laptop is $70 Cheaper with Ubuntu Linux
More than five years after it began selling PCs with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled in the United States, Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) has compiled a lackluster record in the eyes of many Linux advocates when it comes to promoting open source alternatives to Windows. Yet as a Canonical employee recently pointed out, Dell is now offering a $70 markdown on one laptop model when customers purchase it with Ubuntu instead of a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) OS. Is this a mistake, or a sign of changes to come on Dell’s part?
As the only big name OEM that provides Ubuntu preinstalled on certain PCs and laptops in developed markets, Dell can hardly be called anti-Linux. But since introducing Ubuntu computers in 2007, the company has taken flack for failing to market them aggressively, burying Ubuntu options on its website and charging the same prices whether users order machines with Ubuntu, which is free, or with Windows.
While the conspiracy theorists of the open source world have been quick to attribute Dell’s lack of aggressive promotion of Ubuntu to a Microsoft plot, there’s no evidence that’s the case. Still, it is true that Dell has offered Ubuntu as an OS option on only a restricted and inconsistent lineup of machines, and that material praising Ubuntu as a better platform has long since disappeared from Dell’s website, along with the dell.com/ubuntu portal itself — which now redirects to a “no results” search page.
Annuling the Windows Tax?
But in a move that’s likely to placate many Linux fans, Dell is currently selling Ubuntu versions of its Vostro 2520 laptop for $299, while the same laptop with an identical hardware configuration goes for $369 if Windows 7 is the preinstalled OS. Rick Spencer, who works for Canonical, drew attention to the price difference on his personal blog after stumbling upon it during Cyber Monday shopping.
Something tells me, though, that the pricing differential does not reflect any kind of deliberate effort on the part of Dell to encourage customers to consider Ubuntu. First of all, no advertising highlights the Ubuntu cost advantage. Instead, users are left to discover it themselves, as Spencer did–and I’d bet that most visitors to Dell’s website who are not Canonical employees are unlikely to experiment with non-Windows OS options to reveal the cost difference.
More tellingly, the configuration choices for a Vostro 2520 based on Ubuntu don’t make much sense. Optional add-ons include subscriptions to Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which will be of limited utility when running Ubuntu. Most Office 365 features will work fine on Ubuntu, since the service is largely Web-based, but to get the most out of it one needs Microsoft Office.
Similarly, the specification summary for the Ubuntu Vostro states explicitly that it includes “No Productivity Software,” even though Ubuntu comes with the LibreOffice suite built in. This error will certainly not encourage users to consider Ubuntu.
And last but not least, the small banner describing Ubuntu that users see on the Vostro configuration page says the platform includes OpenOffice and Mozilla Firefox 3.0. Neither of these claims is quite true. LibreOffice replaced OpenOffice as the office suite installed by default in Ubuntu more than a year ago, and the most recent release of Ubuntu includes Firefox 15. The Firefox 3.0.x line was introduced in 2008 and reached its end of life in March 2010. Clearly, Dell’s information is in need of serious updating.
This is all to say that if Dell is trying to promote Ubuntu, it’s doing a terribly poor job of it beyond simply offering a price incentive for choosing Ubuntu systems. It seems more likely that the elimination of the “Windows tax” in the Vostro 2520 lineup was inadvertent, and that Dell’s efforts to promote Ubuntu remain half-baked and wildly behind the times.