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Could the world once again see Linux desktops and notebooks from Dell? Anything is possible, now that the build-to-order computer maker is once again listening closely to its customers.
Erosion in customer service was a key contributor to Dell's slowing revenue and declining market share the last couple of years. Michael Dell who ousted Chief Executive Kevin Rollins last month to take over as CEO of the company he founded, has vowed to "fix the consumer experience," fully aware that the company's success in the past hinged on keeping buyers happy during and after the sale.
In trying to reconnect with customers, Dell last week launched IdeaStorm, a kind of online sounding board that borrows from user-generated news sites like Digg. The Dell site lets people submit and vote on ideas for services and products the company should consider. Dell promises to consider all ideas and to provide updates on those it decides to implement.
So, out of the more than 1,400 ideas submitted since the site launched Feb. 16, which one has gotten the most votes? Pre-installation of Linux on Dell PCs. Specifically, IdeaStorm users are asking for Ubuntu, Fedora or OpenSUSE, all free desktop versions of the open-source operating systems. Second to the request for Linux is pre-installation of OpenOffice, the open-source office productivity suite that fans would love to see grab some market share from rival Microsoft Office.
The idea for Linux, which would be an alternative to Microsoft Windows, was first submitted the day the site launched, and rose to the top within two days, Dell spokeswoman Caroline Dietz said. It has stayed at the top ever since. "Linux is sort of ruling the day," she said.
As of Thursday, pre-installed Linux had received more than 6,800 votes and counting, and OpenOffice more than 4,000. However, some of those votes could have been the result of people voting more than once. Until Wednesday, every site visitor could vote on ideas. Dell now requires people to register first to prevent multiple voting.
While declining to discuss whether Dell is ready to look seriously at offering a Linux PC, Dietz said all ideas are being distributed throughout the organization. "I can't speak specifically as to whether or not Linux will be implemented, but all of these ideas will be considered," she said.
Linux PCs for consumers are not new to Dell. The company once offered Linux on desktop PCs, but dropped it in 2001, when the company was still locked arm-in-arm with Microsoft and chipmaker Intel in selling Windows PCs. Times, however, have changed.
While Windows remains Dell's blood supply, the computer maker is free to cut any deal it wants without fear of retribution from Microsoft. Under a 2001 government antitrust settlement, Microsoft is barred from leveraging its Windows monopoly to strong arm OEMs.
Today, Dell has shown that it's willing to break its exclusive partnerships to meet customer demand. That was behind the decision last May to offer chips from Advanced Micro Devices in computer servers, as well as Intel processors. Dell currently offers AMD chips on desktops and notebooks too.