Amid Linux netbook jitters, Dell stands firm

Rodney Gedda

Rodney Gedda is the former deputy editor of CIO and former editor of Techworld.

Dell's latest model netbook, the Latitude 2100, announced today will ship with the latest Ubuntu Linux 9.04 by default with options for Windows XP and – believe it or not – Windows Vista. What makes this release more interesting that the standard line of “a big computer company ships something with Linux pre-installed” is there a recent tendency for netbook makers to clutch onto the legacy Windows XP in the waiting line for Windows 7.

Despite ASUS's grand entrance into the Linux netbook market with the Eee PC, the company has recently turned a cold shoulder to penguin power citing customer dissatisfaction and increased support requirements.

It would seem that the shine of Linux has lost its luster in favour of the “old reliable” Windows.

But that's far from the end of the story when there is talk of running Android on netbooks (the topic of another blog) and shipping pre-integrated cloud services on portable device operating systems (Linux or not) a la the iPhone.

The mobile computing game has changed for good and the smart netbook vendors will look far and wide for usable, rapidly configurable software options.

And as I've alluded to previously, a company like ASUS doesn't need to go to the trouble of engineering a new user interface for its netbooks in the hope that people will accept it.

Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva and others (together with the GNOME and KDE projects) are already doing a fine job of engineering Linux-based operating systems for “mainstream” computing with “popular” user interfaces.

It's up the hardware makers to play ball, not start a new game. That's why I think Dell's decision to stick with Ubuntu is a good one.

And the big question remains – will Windows 7 be much of an improvement over Vista? The early signs are yes (for the simple fact that it couldn't possibly be any worse), but that doesn't mean 7 will the perfect number, particularly on netbooks.

So if the box droppers want to hedge all their bets on Windows 7 they might want to reconsider that direction.

At least Dell is keeping its options open.

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