Dell Gives Linux Another Try

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From time to time, I toy with Linux, the PC software that can be had free because it's developed by volunteers. But I'm not ready to make the switch, mostly because Linux isn't ready for me – and certainly not for less techie users. Still, for folks fed up with Microsoft Windows and not wanting to pay to make the switch to Macintosh, Linux took another step toward the mainstream with an announcement yesterday that Dell would offer PCs with Linux already installed.

That saves some of what can be the biggest hassles of trying a new operating system: getting it to work with the hardware. Dell hasn't said what it will charge for machines with Linux installed, but presumably they'll be a bit cheaper than those with Windows, for which Microsoft collects a hefty fee.

But Linux may prove more costly in the long run, particularly if you don't enjoy slogging through what is still a technical challenge. Even the folks who develop Linux versions say it's not ready for the mainstream. That market is "is likely one to three years away," says Kevin Carmony, CEO of Linspire, which offers a version aimed at less techy users.

Carmony says he told Dell not to even try to appeal to average consumers but instead take aim at "Linux enthusiasts," which Dell apparently did in choosing Ubuntu, an increasingly popular version of Linux but one that Carmony says is still aimed at techies. Dell must think there are enough to make it worthwhile now – Dell once before offered Linux on PCs before dropping it in 2001 because of insufficient demand.

Curious? If you have a broadband connection, it's easy to try Ubuntu's version of Linux on your PC. You can download the system, which arrives as a 700-megabyte disk image. That means you don't even have to muck with your PC's current setup; you just burn the disk image to a CD, and boot from the CD. And if you're not techie enough to figure that out, well, then Linux probably isn't ready for you, either.