Imagine my jaw dropping today when I opened up yet another unsolicited Dell publication loaded with computers I am not in the market for, only to discover that Dell is openly showing off its relationship with Ubuntu Linux! Now one might surmise that, as a Linux guy, this would thrill me. And had this been done a little differently, it would. Unfortunately, I am watching Dell repeat the same mistakes made by other hardware vendors selling a non-Windows loaded computers to those living in a Windows world.

I believe there is no question that this stripped down version of Ubuntu will do nicely for most people checking email and surfing the Web. Unfortunately, there is a question as to peripheral compatibility for some select users. Be it rare, some made for Windows peripherals are simply not going to work out of the box. It’s true, as I have spent years learning what works and what does not and based on my experience, some brands¬†especially are just too problematic to proclaim any level of compatibility. Because there are some peripherals that are not going to be supported by SANE (scanners) or CUPS (printers), this is going to lead to a repeat of what we found happening with Everex and Walmart.

In that instance, the effort could have been a hit as the OS was, indeed, meeting the moderately casual needs of that customer set. The problem was that marketing efforts forgot to add the fine print. Not to frighten people into using a ancient OS like XP, but rather to help users realize that if they are using “problem peripherals,” they may wish to do some quick checking before making the purchase of a Mini 9. It’s a simple matter that some limited peripheral support is not pre-loaded with Ubuntu 8.04, despite the fact that, overall, the release has AWESOME hardware support with most peripherals.

What about the upcoming version of Windows? Think this will not be a problem with Windows 7? Think again. While generally impressed with the testing release I had a chance to work with, the fact is that any new Windows release translates into driver headaches for at least a few months to a year. In addition to that, believing that one can merely upgrade from XP is not looking all that likely either. So there is something to be said for trying to find some ground in the middle if possible. If that means $80 for an HP all-in-one printer as HP has consistently provided great support for Linux, then that option should be on the table for consideration.

Coming back full circle, here is where I feel Dell dropped the ball.

  • Provide links to SANE and CUPS so users can make sure they are “Ubuntu ready.”
  • Explain the differences between the two OSes. Ubuntu has nothing to hide, so I doubt XP does either. Taking time to be responsible with a simple Web site link offering a disclosure on how the two operating systems differ translates into a lot of frustration being avoided in the long run.

If it was me and I was using peripherals that could potentially be a problem, I would want to be informed before making my Dell purchase. Are most people going to be faced with problem peripherals? Most people will be fine. But those who are using problem brands will be loud and amplified by the media as they voice how Linux destroyed their lives. The fact of the matter is that most people are brought up believing that anything that works on Windows surely must work on any computer running whatever the alternatives happen to be. Peripherals are no different. And in this age of relying on everyone else to do our thinking for us, it’s best to assume that most people are going to blame everyone around them should their computing experience go south.