Remember that iconic scene from the start of Poltergeist, with Carol-Anne sitting in front of a T.V. screen full of static and making that announcement in her high, sweet voice? That odd little feeling of dread? You don't know why, but the warning flags are going up in your mind. That's the way I feel with the official arrival of Dell's Ubuntu systems.
Why should I feel dread? After all, this is what I've been waiting for for quite some time; a big official vendor to sell systems with Linux installed. Even my mixed experience with Ubuntu doesn't really bias me from not recommending the purchase of systems with Ubuntu installed, if the Ubuntu distribution has been properly installed and the hardware is fully supported.
Now that I've had a chance to look at Dell's initial offerings, I've come to the conclusion that two major assumptions of mine will go unfulfilled by Dell; wide hardware support and a rich Linux experience. Dell has chosen to sell three very limited Linux machines; two desktops and a notebook. They've deliberately hobbled the hardware choices you can make within the machines, and just like they promised, they're only shipping them with one distribution installed, Ubuntu.
Compare Dell's offering with Emperor Linux, a company that advertises within the pages of Linux Journal, and has done so for a number of years. Emperor advertises notebooks from manufacturers such as IBM (Thinkpad), Sony (Vaio), Fujistsu (Lifebook), and Dell. That's right, Dell. And the Dell systems they resell are Dell Latitude's and Inspirons that range in price from $1100 to over $5000. These machines can be configured with the latest Core 2 Duos, with up to 4GiB of DRAM, up to 160GiB hard drives, and the video can range up to 1900 x 1280 resolution driven by nVidia FX video cards. What does Dell offer for video? The low-end last-generation nVidia 7300 "budget" card. Period. And Emperor will install the distribution of you choice, including Ubuntu.
Dell's deliberately limited Ubuntu Linux offerings show cowardice in the face of Microsoft's displeasure, and telegraphs to the casual shopper that Linux is a very cheap (as in quality) second to Windows in terms of breadth and depth of hardware support, when it most certainly is not. If Emperor can sell you a portable powerhouse built around Dell notebooks with your choice of Linux distribution, then why can't Dell itself?
Anyone who thinks Dell's initial foray into the Linux PC market is a breakthrough, is a fool. They're not going to get my business nor my recommendation.