When Dell introduced the world to an Ubuntu-based Ultrabook, I was incredibly happy. Ubuntu has long been a favorite among Linux users as kind of a gateway drug to the greater world of Linux, and Dell has always been a supporter of the open platform in one form or another. The idea of Ubuntu heading to one of the leading Ultrabooks on the market today was also quite appealing. That is, until I noticed that the Ubuntu version of the XPS 13 cost $250 more than the Windows version of the same laptop.
Why would it cost more to use open source software than it would to go with a commercial operating system? Just because it has the fancy title “Developer Edition” assigned to it doesn’t make it instantly better than the Windows version in the specs sheet. What’s to stop a Windows user from wiping the drive and putting Ubuntu on it, anyway?
Bloatware Reduces System Prices
That’s when it dawned on me. Ubuntu doesn’t come equipped with a load of bloatware from third-party software makers eager to pitch their paid software to Dell customers. This bloatware might be a minor annoyance to users, but it takes a significant chunk out of the purchase price of the laptop for Dell’s customers. Apparently, that subsidy lessens the price of a system by more than $250 since Dell surely has to pay something for the Windows license each machine comes with.
Ubuntu, being an open source operating system that users typically don’t buy software for except in rare circumstances (Steam, anyone?), would be a terrible place to pitch third-party software. Many of these software vendors don’t even make Linux ports of their products because they would have a harder time making money off them. That doesn’t mean Linux users are cheap, but it just isn’t the crowd I would target that type of advertising to. Linux users tend to open their wallets in support of an open project or an independent developer that’s going out of their way to support something the user cares about. Humble Bundle is an example where Linux users often surpass Windows and OS X users in terms of paying a higher price for software for a good cause.
Support Training Takes Money
We’d all like to think tech support at Dell and other OEMs is filled with Linux enthusiasts that are helping poor unfortunate Windows users with ongoing issues associated with the platform. This really isn’t entirely true. Many of Dell’s tech support calls come from hardware issues, beginner-level questions, and the occasional software problem. These tech support representatives may not be well versed in the world of Ubuntu, and it stands to reason that at least a certain percentage of customers dive into it without knowing all there is to know, either.
This small, yet important support team takes training. Sales reps have to be able to know what they’re talking about when customers ask what makes Ubuntu different from Windows, and engineers have to go out of their way to make sure Dell’s drivers are absolutely supported on the open source operating system.
This all adds up to money that comes out of Dell’s pocket. This money has to be recouped somehow, and that responsibility falls on customers that want the developer edition.
There’s at least some level of exclusivity involved with an Ubuntu-loaded laptop. While Dell might make a boatload of XPS 13s configured in every which way for Windows, it would probably only produce a fraction of that in Ubuntu systems due to the lower demand. A custom configuration goes a little further as it requires actual hands-on bench time to install the additional RAM and/or other options apart from what is received from the primary assembly floor.
The XPS 13 Developer Edition is a nice laptop, and sometimes you end up paying a little extra for the work that goes into making it possible in smaller quantities than the more prolific version of the same basic device.
While the exact answer to the question of why the price bump is necessary in this particular instance is Dell’s secret to tell and anyone’s guess, it’s almost certain that Dell is hardly “punishing” Linux users by providing Ubuntu installed laptops at a slightly higher price. Even the smallest detail to the consumer has a huge impact on a company’s bottom line when they’re selling systems by the hundreds of thousands. If you feel $250 is too much of a premium to pay for the Ubuntu XPS 13, you could always buy the Windows version and install Ubuntu yourself.