Is Dell Dropping the Ball on Ubuntu?

I admit that I was pretty excited when I first heard about Dell shipping Ubuntu on their select machines. I figured that you can’t go wrong with a pre-installed tested system. However, since I haven’t bought one, or read any thorough, critical reviews I didn’t know how piss poor is their support.

If you read slashdot you probably seen this already, so forgive me for regurgitating this material. I’m kinda angry at Dell right now so I think it’s worth bringing it up even if it’s recycled news. Anyway, the story is that Walt Mossberg, a technology columnist for Wall Street Journal blogged his experience with the Ubuntu Dell and decided it’s not ready for the average Joe. Unfortunately Mr. Mossberg is what we in the know call a clinical case of complete fucking idiot – which is by the way, smack dab in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to tech competency. Most people are just dumb as dirt wen it comes to computers, and the only way to teach them how not to inadvertently break their own laptops is to forcibly insert knowledge into their skulls using blunt objects. So when I call Mr. Mossberg an idiot, I’m not doing this to offend him. I’m doing this to underline the fact that I don’t blame him for spreading the nasty FUD around like some Microsoft butt-monkey. I read his article, and I watched his video and I tell you – he just doesn’t know any better. So what you have here is a “complete idiot’s review of Dell-buntu” which is kinda refreshing, as it points out obvious stuff that doesn’t work while it should.

For example it seems that Dell is to cheep to pay for basic codec packs needed for playing various music and video formats. How come they don’t pre-load these machines with all the non-free shit that is not included on iso’s due to incompatible licensing? The fact that Ubuntu can’t ship with some of this stuff doesn’t mean Dell can’t. Hell they should – Windows boxes come pre-loaded with all kinds of garbage. Why can’t they install basic stuff? I mean people even make (poorly written) scripts like Automatix to make this process easier. Is it to much to expect from Dell?

Mossbergs other complaint is over-sensitivity of the touchpad, and lack of appropriate tool to regulate it. This is a blatant example of not fucking bothering to properly configure X or install the Qsynaptics package. How fucking hard would it be to put a link to Qsynaptics in the Gnome menu somewhere? Jesus Christ – that’s like 30 seconds of work. WTF Dell? Are you people even trying? You can’t just slap Ubuntu on a laptop and hope it will work, just like you can’t do the same with Windows.

Mossberg also mentioned shit kept crashing when waking up the laptop from sleep mode. I never experienced that issue because I don’t use Gnome but I believe him. ACPI on linux is pretty much Russian roulette. You never know if the system will wake up or crash unexpectedly. Honestly, I have no clue. This might be a Gnome thing, shitty support for ACPI in the Feisty kerner or something completely different. Still, this is something that could potentially be fixed by Dell in one way or another.

DVD support is, of course a lost cause. Mossberg of course is to clueless to know about the legal pile of fucking horse shit surrounding this issue so I guess we can forgive him. Ubuntu won’t play commercial DVD’s not because it can’t but because it is legally prohibited from doing so because of infinite stupidity of American entertainment industry. Not much we can do about this.

I have absolutely no clue why Mossberg claims he had to reboot to get his camera and iPod recognized. But I can’t comment here cause I do not own an iPod, nor have I tried getting my camera recognized on my work laptop. So maybe he is right, but once again – iPod support is something that could be achieved out of the box by preinstalling GTKPod package and making some appropriate entries in the fstab.

I’m not saying that Ubuntu is 100% ready for desktop use by your average techno-retatd. What I’m saying is that most of Mossberg’s complaints stem from sloppy and incompetent installation and system configuration by dell. It seems that they have decided to release the *buntu machines on the cheap without extensive testing of their installation procedures. Which is very sad. I always hoped that vendor installed Linux would ship with full hardware support, the most optimal X configuration possible and all the additional driver and helper packages required to run it. It seems that this is not the case, and dell just slaps the most basic Ubuntu image onto their drives without regard for user convenience.

[tags]ubuntu, ubuntu dell, dell, gtkkpod, qsynaptics, drivers, installation, walt mossberg, slashdot[/tags]

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11 Responses to Is Dell Dropping the Ball on Ubuntu?

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I had a similar reaction when I read this article, though not as angry :). Certainly this is mostly Dell’s fault, even the acpi issue. Every thinkpad I’ve ever touched has run beautifully with the Linux acpi, I ran some informal benchmarks and Xubuntu with acpi kicked Windows trash as far as battery life. If dell took the pains IBM had to make sure their laptops were linux compatible, there’d be no acpi issue.

    I own several cameras, an iPod, a sandisk, and a ton of other peripherals (like a kensington usb laptop dock, two different usb hubs, one which splits usb into usb and firewire, and the other which as a bazillion “card reader” slots. Literally every single one worked immediately by plugging it in.

    This didn’t used to be the case. My first iPod didn’t work with Linux for sometime (thank goodness for ephpod, or else I’d have been stuck with itunes, *shudder*). I can’t say this’ll be the case for everyone either, I do often buy hardware with an eye towards linux compatibility, but even those devices I didn’t think about compatibility work now.

    In any event, your points are well taken, Dell really just threw Ubuntu on some desktops and a laptop. When they offer it on their business laptops (inspirons really blow once you’ve used a latitude), and properly support acpi, I’ll look at one. For now I’ll stick with the thinkpads that serve me so well.

    PS – I’ve never had a linux issue go away by rebooting. This guy really is in the Windows mindset (reboot, cross your fingers).

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    wow.. lame

    Some other major vendor (IBM does this too you say..) needs to get in on the act and leverage some marketing around their extensive linux support, put some pressure on Dell to get it right.

    Chances of this happening: poor, not enough people care about linux

    More likely: other vendors will look at the trouble dell has with ubuntu (I assume they’re having trouble, or soon will be, or else I wouldn’t be here reading this) and decide that the great dellbuntu experiment has failed and they should avoid repeating it.

    I’ve been meaning to give ubuntu another try myself, hearing about stuff that put me off a bit being fixed now is always encouraging, so if my posted by” dealy changes, that’ll be why

    PS: Screw you Dell!

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  3. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    yeah i read that dumb shit and yep he certainly is a “clinical case of complete fucking idiot.” It really didn’t bother me much tho i read a lot of dumb shit. i have however saw a few positive reviews of dell-buntu perhaps by Linux lovers but nonetheless not everyone has such a negative view.

    All of Mossbergs problems were basically trivial, but nonetheless it is true dell should do a much better job of installing Ubuntu. As ya know I’m somewhat new to Linux but have been converting a few of my Friends. machines I set up with ubuntu are certainly “ready for the average Joe” none of my friends have yet had any problems with ubuntu itself. I install everything necessary for full functionality and if i run into a problem like with hardware I figure it out. Google knows most everything. lmao.

    Now mind you these are the same friends that had all kinds of problems with windows xp. I know because i had to constantly deal with that. So from my perspective I don’t think windows is ready for the average joe and from what i’ve read Vista certainly is not.

    “Ubuntu won’t play commercial DVDs”, yeah that’s funny because as you even say we all know it can. If i install Ubuntu on a computer with a dvd player it will play dvds when i am done. I think it was Thoreau that said it was a just mans duty to refuse to obey an unjust law. I live by that and all I got to say is arrest me if ya don’t like it. haha. Of course i can understand why a company like Dell can’t be so brazen, but again that is a minor issue and easily fixed. Plenty of people and web sites will tell ya how to fix that.

    Anyway I think in time Dell will do a better job of installation. Blogs like this I feel will help. And i disagree with Matt i do think more and more people care about Linux. Today for example i met a business man who converted his companies computers to Linux and was totally and pleasantly surprised … I had no idea he even knew what Linux was, in fact I ask him what distro he was using and he didn’t know. That shows beyond any doubt he is a techno-retatd. His reason for Linux, Security first and Price second. Someone indubitably advised him to do so and maybe the same person installed Linux for him but the message is slowly getting out there :)

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @jambarama – the only reason I can think of for rebooting a linux system is to check if whatever daemons you disabled/enabled start with the system during normal boot. Well, that and applying kernel patches but why the hell would one need to go that far just to get an iPod working? Definitely windows mindset. :)

    @Matt` – actually IBM… Or… Um… Lenovo might or might not consider Ubuntu. At least some people there are thinking about this, as evidenced by their distro poll that I blogged about recently.

    @Starhawk – I love how anti-linux FUD dispensers always bring back the DVD issue. And they will continue using the same argument with HDDVD, BlueRay or whoever is easier to hack on consistent basis and thus wins the next-gen format war. It is a null and void point but they will keep bringing it back anyway.

    Oh and wow – it’s great to see that small businesses can adopt linux so easily. Very awesome!

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  5. Jeremy UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Just to throw in my 2 cents…

    I have a Dell 1420. Its not the N-series one simply because I needed to have Windows and its easier to install Ubuntu. Anyways I have installed 7.04 and 7.10 on it and read up on some stuff and heres what I say.

    As far as the touchpad its only slightly more sensitive on Ubuntu than it is on Vista. And its really not that bad it has to do with how fast you slide your finger. Thats user error. Also with the proprietary stuff, I would not be surprised in the least if it was being worked on. As it is Dell had to do some work to get Ubuntu to work on the 1420 because of the new Santa Rosa platform and 7.04 just didn’t really work. On the other hand though, from Dell’s POV, why would they pay companies so they could include the proprietary software. That should be the Ubuntu communities job to get that stuff available, and I would have to agree. Dell should support the community in that effort, but in the end they are doing what people asked. That wanted preinstalled Ubuntu and that is what Dell has done. They are supposedly even looking at increasing their support of Ubuntu. I have read though that they are bound by contract not to sell Windows and Ubuntu side by side, which makes me wonder what else they aren’t allowed to do.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote comment=”6233″]On the other hand though, from Dell’s POV, why would they pay companies so they could include the proprietary software.[/quote]

    Because Dell is in the business of selling assembled, working, fully functional systems. Their customers expect Dell computers to work out of the box.

    Ubuntu on the other hand is in the business of developing and maintaining free, open source operating system. Some of the stuff out there that is non-free and non-GPL can’t be included in the base installs because of licensing and legal concerns. Same goes for Windows. Microsoft is not shipping their OS bundled with Office productivity suite, an Antivirus, Antispyware, and a PDF reader. And yet, Dell bundles all these products with windows for user convenience.

    Why a simillar approach can’t be used for linux?

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  7. Jeremy UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    (I started rambling so just skip to the end if you want the summary)
    I’m sure the fact that Ubuntu, and really Linux as a whole, comes with an office suite and everything else is part of the reason people have such a hard time with it. Windows is an OS. Yes it has Wordpad, WMP and Outlook Express, but could you imagine what would happen to the software sector if it included all the software, quality software at that, that Ubuntu has? The multi-billion, if not trillion, dollar industry would shrink many times over. And besides the millions of anti-trust suites that Microsoft would get, Dell and other hardware vendors would feel it too. Whenever they bundle that software for “convenience” their bank account grows. And theres the problem. When you sell someone Ubuntu, you sell them what they need, not a starting point. What software are they suppose to sell you after you buy Ubuntu. Name one program that you bought for Linux? Windows-compatibility programs? How long do you think it would take before Microsoft threw they have, bar nothing, at all parties involved.

    I guess what I’m saying is that its not that Dell is refusing to do something, its that they can’t really. The solution has to come from somewhere else. MP3 support isn’t something Dell can just add. They would have to pay for it. Since the cost couldn’t be off set from bundling software, they would be forced to increase the price, and, from the consumers eyes, if Ubuntu and Windows cost the same why not just go with what your neighbor has? Not like they know the difference.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Someone actually did a comparison and a price of the Ubuntu system was only around $100 smaller than the same model with XP on it. It might be a bit more if you compare it to some versions of Viata, but it is still somewhere in that ballpark.

    Dell seems to be pricing the Ubuntu models just slightly below the windows ones. Personally I suspect that their deal with Microsoft says that they can’t sell linux models at prices that are very competitive – but that’s just my guess.

    Either way, I don’t really see people buying Ubuntu systems to save money. I think they are buying it because they genuinely want to use Linux. Even when cheaper, Linux is alien and scary and most people will go for familiar windows boxes anyway. So I don’t think the price difference is so crucial.

    In fact, I bet Ubuntu customers wouldn’t mind paying $100 more to get the system configured with all the good stuff, so they don’t have to waste time with stuff like Automatix which can totally hose the system twice over. All things considered, $100 is not that much money, when you are buying $1500-2000 piece of equipment.

    Oh, and bundling is perhaps a bad example here. That’s a whole other can of worms so let’s just save that for another discussion. Let me re-iterate my point.

    Dell ships windows with a whole set of tools that let you maintain your hardware (power profiles, disable/enable radio, dimming the screen), retrieve driver updates and etc. Check it next time – all that Dell quick-set crap. One would figure that they’d hire/contract few Ubuntu developers to build simillar customized tools for linux. Perhaps they are doing this right now – I don’t know.

    My point is – when you are building and selling systems it’s usually a good idea to invest in making your users life easier. The idea is – anyone can put together a computer, and slap the OS on the hard drive. But if you want a complete solution that is guaranteed to work out of the box, you come to us. This is what they are currently doing with windows, so why not with Ubuntu. Yeah, they will need to invest up front into building these tools and development environment but that’s what you do when you adopt a new OS.

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  9. charles UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I suspect that dell is dabbling with linux just to weasel a better deal on windows out of microsoft. The only hope i see for them really investing in their ubuntu line is if ms is unreasonable in their negotiations. Have you noticed that it is almost impossible to find a linux offering by navigating, or searching, the dell website. I have only been able to find their linux offerings from links on linux community blogs.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I haven’t really tried searching for it lately, but few months ago when they started doing it, I remember seeing an animated showcase diplay on the front page saying something like “By Popular Demand: Ubundu Dell” or something like that. So there was a time when they were hyping it up, and showcasing it.

    Then again – I guess you might be right. They got the price break from MS and now they buried the Ubuntu offer deep in the forest of links on their page. :(

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  11. charles UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I owe dell an apology. It was some months ago that i last tried to find linux links. I see that now they have an easy link for “open-source pcs” and they even have a decent video on why one might (or might not) choose linux.

    We will have to see if they follow through with tweaking their installed linux to just work for the average customer. More importantly, i’m watching for when they offer linux on their full line of computers and not just a couple of models.

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