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Dell takes stealth approach to Linux

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Dell's very quiet move to sell PCs with Linux pre-installed is being treated with suspicion. Two months ago, as part of its DellPlus programme, Dell quietly offered Linux to customers who agreed to buy at least 50 client PCs a quarter. In the case of servers, there was no minimum -- but there is a fee of $250 per server, it appears. It is not possible to place an order on Dell's website, as the only options offered are decidedly Microsoft-friendly. Several accusations are being voiced about this stealth programme on the Web. First, it is seen as Michael not wishing to upset Bill. Publicly, Dell says it is only getting around two enquiries a week for Linux, and that it has been offering Linux in an even less formal way for about a year. The suspicion is that some customers might have taken a great deal of business elsewhere if Dell had refused to pre-install Linux. So far as the $250 'tax' for servers is concerned, this is seen to be outrageous, and not correlatable with trying to increase sales. Most users desiring Linux are likely to obtain it at low cost from a distributor like Caldera or Red Hat and arrange their own dual boot. Those wishing Linux only on a new PC that contains pre-loaded Windows can in fact obtain a refund for Windows because of a provision in Microsoft's End User Licence Agreement that requires users who do not accept its terms to return Windows for a refund. More cynical observers are suggesting that in a few months, Dell will be able to say that it tried Linux, but too few people wanted it. With the increasing support for Linux -- from Corel, Informix, Netscape, Novell, Oracle, and Sybase to name a few -- there is a significant market opportunity for OEMs to bite the bullet and feature pre-loaded Linux, with multi-boot options. ®

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