Wednesday, March 14, 2007



What I want from Dell

Dell's attempts to woo the Free Software community have been astounding, and they are now running a survey on what they should prioritise on.

For one a good start, Dell asked the community, instead of asking a consultant to do this. But, the ``hangover'' of proprietary days is still there, even in the survey. I think Dell does not understand the difference between a kernel and an operating system.

Saying that about a leading manufacturer of hardware sounds far-fetched, but some of the questions on the survey - like ``Which language should we prioritise on?'' just demonstrates it.

For me, all Dell needs to do is simply to ensure that every part of their hardware - the video card, sound cards, Lan cards, MMC/SD card slots, WiFi/BLueTooth / InfraRed / Firewire ports, Modems, web cams, finger print readers, etc are supported in the Kernel.

The prohibition against changing partitions is another problem with Dell's, (and almost all other laptop manufacturers) warranty terms. Dell should ensure that users have the freedom to partition disks and install the distro of their choice. If the users do not know how to do this, they wont do it, and Dell need not enforce ignorance through a warranty nullification clause.

And if users know how to do this, they will not bother Dell with support calls about such issues.

One problem Dell may have to face is in the application software arena. People will keep on asking ``how do I use the thumb drive'', ``why is my digital camera not working'' etc., and Dell should have (preferably more than one) mailing list and / or some web based fora devoted to answer such questions.

For all this, Dell need not have huge support team to deal with customer queries / support requests; all it will need is a team of core developers who will integrate drivers and software specific to Dell hardware into the Kernel; and a few knowledgeable people who will do the support thorough e-mail /web fora.

It certainly will help if Dell does install a basic distro while shipping their systems with working X and a GUI desktop (GNOME/KDE/ICEWM - I do not care); and all the device drivers and user interface software for the hardware, but Dell should not invalidate the warranty if the user reinstalls another distro.

And yes, like HP, Dell should hire a few Free Software hackers.

What will Dell get in return for all its efforts?

I do not know about you, but if they get their act together within a reasonable time (say 3 months), and make it available in India, I may choose a Dell notebook / laptop. Here is what I am looking for - 1 GB Ram, 120GB (or more) Sata HDD, a 64 bit processor, Wifi/bluetooth/IR port, SD/MMC card reader, integrated webcam and speaker, 15 inch monitor, 4hr + battery backup; and, yes - GNU/Linux compatibility.

But, if the drivers are not there in Debian's Main section, or Fedora (which means, binary drivers will not do), I am not going to touch the systems with a barge pole.

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