Linux on More Dell Client Systems?


As highlighted in Michael Brown's post, we put a lot of effort into our Linux offerings on our workstations and servers.

On the client side, our efforts are much more behind-the-scenes. We recognize the chicken-and-egg problem though: it has to work before many people will want to buy it; and it won't work unless effort is put into it before people start buying it. So we're cracking the egg, not quite making omelets.

No surprise, our Linux engineers run a wide variety of Linux distros on our own desktops and notebooks, and fix bugs we encounter in daily use. Fortunately, many of the components are common across products, so we leverage that work too; ACPI, SATA 2, audio drivers, Firewire, firmware tools and video drivers are a few items that the Precision team develops, which directly benefits users of our desktops and notebooks. In addition to casual investigation, we do work directly with engineers at Intel, Red Hat, and Novell/SuSE on specific client features, such as ACPI testing, suspend-to-RAM and suspend-to-disk, hot plug device bays and docking station support.

If you buy a Dell notebook and run Linux on it, does Dell's hardware warranty still apply? Absolutely. You'll need to demonstrate you're having a hardware problem using the Dell Diagnostics CD. Will Dell (today) provide full Linux software support for that system? No. You'll be counting on a community support model for software issues, but many people are already a part of that global community and it suits them just fine. Ubuntu's Hardware Support list, Linux-Dell-Laptops at Yahoo!, tuxmobil, and other sites noted at demonstrate a vibrant user community and a development model radically different than the "full vendor support" model we use for servers and workstations, but one that fits the needs (and cost sensitivity) of this community right now.

Adding to the above existent communities, Dell's Linux team today announces a new public mailing list, [email protected](subscribe and read archives at This list, analogous to our linux-poweredge and linux-precision lists, is intended for Linux system administrators who have Dell desktop or notebook systems, and will include Dell's Linux engineers. This is not a formal technical support list, but it should prove to be a useful forum.

In Michael's post, Direct2Dell reader Aaron noted that we do offer a few n-Series systems—systems available with FreeDOS rather than a Microsoft-based OS—including our Precision workstations, OptiPlex and Dimension desktops. We've heard the multiple requests from Direct2Dell readers like James Randall for n-Series notebooks and more desktops. I hope to have more on that in a future post.

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  • Anonymous

    So, any chance you’ll be using fixed DSDTs in your BIOSes now, for all PCs (desktops, notebooks, tablets)?  Last I looked, it was still generated using Microsoft’s (broken) tools, and hence throwing warnings when re-compiled with Intel’s kit.  These bugs are the source of many a hardware headache (though admittedly my i8600 doesn’t seem to be lacking anything; I still got the errors and wonder what they affected).  How about giving us support on sensors? (i8kutils is nice, but it’s not nearly as nice as it should be.)

    I will, however, agree with the following statement: “You’ll be counting on a community support model for software issues,
    but many people are already a part of that global community and it
    suits them just fine” However, I would extend that to hardware as well.  The main source of headaches when using Linux on Dell’s (and many other Microsoft vendors’) hardware is that I, the Linux-using customer, end up being the tech support and systems engineer.  It’s nice to learn things, and very nice to have the option, but for things to “Just Work” WE (the customers who run Linux on your hardware) have to get all of the workarounds for all of the various bugs in the hardware–broken DSDTs, lying DDC information, etc.  The PC world is rife with quirky hardware, but Windows doesn’t have a problem with it–but ONLY because the hardware vendors work around the quirks (bugs) in the drivers.  Unfortunately, that leaves me, the Dell customer who uses Linux, to do the work that you, the Dell engineer, do for your Windows customers.  And, after many a year of doing your work, I’m tired of it and would like to buy a Linux notebook that Just Works.  This is why I’m trying very hard to find a Linux pre-installed notebook for my next PC.  (I’ve given up on vendors for desktops, unfortunately, and build them all myself nowadays).

    It’s not too late to convince me that Dell is worth spending my money on–else, there are smaller vendors who do listen to the (Linux) customer.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry for the caps, but whenever I clicked the “B” for bold, and then started typing, the cursor would pop up to the previous bold instance.  (BTW, your CSS seems to be somewhat hosed; lots of “Unknown pseudo-class or pseudo-element” and “Error in parsing value for property” warnings.  Indeed, your page doesn’t seem valid XML:

  • DELL-Matt Domsch

    With thanks to Intel’s developers, we are using the tests from for validating the BIOS on all our systems.  This should reduce incompatibilities going forward.  If there are specific DSDT issues you are aware of and have solutions for, join us on the linux-desktops mailing list to discuss.

  • Anonymous

    Can you make a linux-notebooks list as well?

  • DELL-Matt Domsch

    I prefer to have fewer higher-volume lists rather than more lower-volume lists.  I believe many of the topics that will be discussed on linux-desktops is applicable to both desktops and notebooks, and hey, I had to choose some name (linux-clients anyone?).  If the volume is such that it makes sense to split the list in the future, I’ll consider that then.  But for now, one list can serve.

  • Anonymous

    It’s great to see Dell embracing Linux like this.

    I’d now love to see Dell apply pressure on hardware vendors by requiring them to

    1. release hardware documentation for the purposes of open source driver development without the requirement of signing non-disclosure agreements.  This would mean no reliance on binary blobs with unknown security implications running in kernel space.
    2. provide any required firmware with a liberal redistribution licence, which would allow open source operating systems to include such firmware as part of the operating system.

    This would greatly benefit Dell in several ways:

    • Dell systems would get a reputation for having better security and reliability compared with competitors’ systems using closed hardware.
    • Ensure that the hardware “just works” when any operating system (with an active development community) is installed on it.
    • Increase the resale value of its systems, because you could be pretty certain that hardware would continue to be supported by operating system vendors without placing any burden on hardware vendors, long after they are considered “obsolete”.  This would also augment Dell’s good work on the environmental front in that it would increase the chance of hardware having a second life.

    IMHO, it would be a great competitive advantage if Dell were to have systems across it’s range, from consumer to enterprise that were Open-Source Operating System Ready.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to be able to simply buy any given system without having to buy a microsoft os with it.

  • Anonymous

    “So we’re cracking the egg, not quite making omlettes.”

    You’re not quite spelling omelets, either Matt.

    Glad to see Dell is putting more effort into non-MS offerings.

  • DELL-Matt Domsch

    JohnF: noted and fixed, thanks.

  • Anonymous


    Not to be picky, but… Unabridged (v 1.0.1)


    Also, omelette

    om·e·let also om·e·lette
    While the first is preferred, the second is also correct. 🙂
    While there have been some valid points, especially about the DSDTs, something very few Windows users even know exists but almost every Linux user has at least read about.  Dell has valid points as well. 
    It is a chicken and egg problem,  the cost of developing a Linux solution that “Just works” on a desktop or (especially) a portable is not justified until there are enough people wanting to purchase such a system and there will not be very many people purchasing systems for Linux, until it “Just Works”.
    When a manufacturer goes to develop a new system, they know a certain amount of te cost will be to get Windows and the drivers to work together, but they know they will sell millions and the cost per system will be minor.  On a server, even though they may only sell a few hundred thousand, the higher purchase cost covers the higher development cost per box. 
    Now consider developing a system that you may only sell a few thousand boxes, the development cost will drive the price of the system up beyond where people will pay for the features.
    I can just see the advertisements.  Buy our new Linux portable, it costs twice what our Windows Portable costs for an OS that you can download for free!
    Oh wait, Apple already did that.
  • Anonymous

    Being a Dell customer at home with some of my private computers and at work using the company provided computers I did some Linux installs (not just for fun, but for daily work). All of these were successful, but sometimes it took real hard work to get Linux running.

    * Some computers had problems with the ACPI implementation, installation was barely possible. In the end I got Linux running, but it took a lot of time. But there was no way to use suspend / resume with these computers.

    * On other systems the BIOS did not report the available graphics resolutions correctly. Linux was easily set up in text mode, but configuring X was an “interesting” experience. In the end it worked out.

    * On one system I needed multiple BIOS updates until USB mouse and keyboard were useable, the BIOS the system was shipped with did not even allow an installation of Linux because in mid-procedure mouse and keyboard stopped working.

    * One system has a graphics card that would allow 3D acceleration if the proprietory driver would not freeze the computer completely.

    You can see I had my share of “puzzles” to solve with Dell hardware. In comparison to other hardware I’m using Dell seems to “attract interesting experiences”. To me it seems that the BIOS enhancements bring more trouble to Linux users than advantage. Sometimes less can be more. 🙂

    But I want to be fair: Over time the situation improved somewhat. And your tests with the Intel BIOS test kit will hopefully help to fix some BIOS issues for the next generation of computers. One of the positive surprises was the availability of BIOS upgrade executables for Linux! Thank you for this great tool, it worked like a charm. I wish you would make these BIOS upgrade executables available for all your models (I still have one system for which only a Windows update file is available).

    My suggestions are:

    * Avoid “Windows only” hardware strictly. And prefer hardware that has open source Linux drivers over closed source drivers. Closed source drivers will only work for certain distributions or kernel versions. If your software configuration is not supported you do have a problem, a big problem because it renders your hardware useless.

    * Sell all desktops and notebooks with or without Windows (an empty hard disk or FreeDOS installed). As your customer I do expect from you that you give me the choice of software I want to run on _my_ computer.

    * Install a bug tracking system. Mailing lists are fine for discussion and for community support. I can see that there is Dell personnel using the lists, helping with advice and gathering information that is actually used to improve the systems. But mailing lists are volatile, therefore it would be a good idea to have a system like Bugzilla where feedback is recorded, categorized and searchable. Everyone can check the state of a reported issue. This is a QA topic.

    Currently there is no large hardware seller in the market who has a Linux reputation if it comes to desktops and notebooks. If Dell would build computers in a way that they would “just work” with Linux, then Dell would build a reputation with the Linux community. This could initiate a spiral of ever better Linux hardware sells more units, attracts more Linux users, gets more feedback, makes better Linux hardware, gets more feedback …

    Investing now into Linux support is an investment into the future.

    Even if Dell does not pre-install (and actively support) a Linux distribution on their computers the described suggestions would be a big improvement.

    I’m planning to purchase some highend notebooks next year. Currently I’m not sure if I will purchase Dell hardware, because I’m looking for hardware that “just works with Linux” and I don’t want to pay a “Microsoft tax”. Dell could help me a lot with the decision …

  • Anonymous

    I think Dell will achieve huge traction in the Linux Desktop and Laptop markets if Dell starts selling computers with hardware components that is openly documented — this will inevitably lead to good support using open source drivers (this is even more important now that major distributions like Novell SUSE, Redhat, and Ubuntu don’t ship binary drivers that are most likely illegal). Open documentation will ensure forward compatibility and will enable the community to continue servicing the hardware. Finally, it is important that Dell publicize on the product page that you’re building your systems using openly documented hardware components, so that the open source community is free and motivated to write and improve drivers for Dell hardware.

    1) Graphics cards that work with Free & Open Source drivers. Currently, all the n Series desktops come exclusively with NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards that do not work with open-source drivers. The Open Graphics Project will release a consumer graphics card soon that will have full OpenGL acceleration — the card’s internal specifications will be completely documented and its internal design will be GPL’ed so that open-source drivers can take maximum  advantage of the card’s capabilities. It would be really cool if you guys become the Open Graphics Project’s first customer 😉

    2) Wireless cards that work with Free & Open Source drivers without the need for binary blobs and without firmware that can’t be freely distributed. This rules out Intel wireless cards, but there are really good integrated wireless solutions from Ralink  and Zydas that are open-source friendly at the same time.

    3) Laptop modems that work with Linux (ie. not WinModems). IBM came up with a Linux-compatible laptop 56K Fax/Modem for one of their Thinkpads. If such modems aren’t on the market anymore, simply don’t include them on your open-source laptops. Why should people pay for hardware they can’t use?

    4) LinuxBIOS has been getting a lot of attention from hardware makers such as AMD and recently MSI. There’s even talk about MSI contributing LinuxBIOS support for some of their laptop lines. It would be great if Dell started selling desktops and laptops that are completely free — a big selling point for Free Software activists.

  • DELL-Matt Domsch

    Jeff, as you can appreciate, the amount of effort required to develop for and test FreeDOS on systems is significantly lower than the effort required to develop for and test any Linux distribution.  FreeDOS meets the needs of people looking for a system without a Microsoft operating system on it.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you offer FreeDOS with some pcs and not Linux? By modern standards, FreeDOS does not cut it for a desktop or laptop system and yet for many people (not everyone), desktop linux does.

    Could you email me a reason why Dell doesn’t ship a free Linux distribution like Ubuntu or OpenSUSE with the same pcs which offer FreeDOS? Maybe there could be an option of FreeDOS or Linux?

    Thanks for letting everyone know how things are going.

  • Anonymous


    1) The Open Graphics Project won’t be able to compete with ATI/nVidia/Intel/VIA. It’s a project that will be nice for low-powered desktop work.

    2) Zydas zd1211 still has a binary blob as firmware. It’s just hex-coded
    and put in a .c file. Actually, so far I have been unable to find a
    single wireless card that doesn’t have a binary blob that needs to be
    loaded somehow.

    3) Agreed 🙂

    4) That would really be interesting, but I suspect it would be a support nightmare. For really high-tech users though, releasing the specs needed to enable linuxbios users to get it working would be great.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, please!!!

    We need windows-free laptops!!!

    The LinuxBIOS thing would be amazing too, with near instant boot, that is so important for laptops.

  • Anonymous

    Just received my Latitude D820 on Wednesday which is happily running Mepis 6 today.  I don’t care whether you you propritary drivers or open source just as long as they work.

    I have owned 4 latitude and inspiron laptops over the years, all of which I have used to run linux.  My pet peeves are:

    1)  Poor power management/suspend/hibernate.  Dell should be working closely with the OS communities to insure its hardware is will supported.

    2)  Having to pay for windows.  I should be able to buy a bare laptop.  The one I got Wednesday never booted in to Windows even once.  Its first boot for me was from the Mepis CD.

    3)  Features, for which I am paying, that have no prayer of working under Linux, modems come to mind, but there is other stuff like finger print scanners, network cards etc..  You guys are a hardware company.  Why not build a line of laptops that are designed for Linux — Latitux or Tuxiron?  You don’t have far to go.  Everything except the modem and suspend/hibernate on my Latitude worked just fine out of the box.

    4)  Lack of official online resources for configuring your products to work with Linux.  Most people in the community are used to looking things up instead of getting help from a tech help line.  But where does one find out what modeline and other xorg.conf settings to use with a Dell 2007WFP monitor?  (Real issue, took me all day to figure out, no Dell resources available).  If you want to sell us new stuff, help us figure out how to use it.

    5) Offshore call centers.  This is not mere chauvinism, even the best trained and smartest staff overseas take twice as long to deal with issues as your US staff, not because I’m too smart or they are in any way inferior to me (they are probably smarter because I don’t speak their language at all), but because we spend half of our time talking past each other.  Don’t waste my time.  If I call I already have a problem, don’t give me the additional problem of making myself understood.

    I’m not a big fan of preinstalled Linux.  It would be great for some, but for me it would mean never being able to really upgrade the system.   Sure it works out of the box as configured with Kubuntu, but what happens the first time you run apt-get update or want to move to the new point release?

  • Anonymous


    1) The Open Graphics Card aims to fully support all the 3D desktop eyecandy like Compiz and EXA. I actually expect it will be faster than ATI and certainly NVIDIA, whose open source drivers don’t have any accelleration whatsoever (and the close source drivers are illegal because they clearly violate the GPL).

    2) While I wish Zydas provided open source firmware, their wireless cards are still orders of time better than Intel’s because
    Zydas’ firmware can be distributed from person to person and included in distro CDs so that the wireless works out of the box with the operating system; and
        b) Intel requires a userspace binary blob that runs as root and might as well be streaming the content of your home directory without your knowledge.

    The problem that Free/Open Source advocates have with Intel’s firmware is that it cannot be included in distro CDs, and therefore a user cannot download updates and/or install via FTP.

  • Anonymous

    AMD to support LinuxBIOS on Desktop and Laptop motherboards — let them know which ones!

    LinuxBIOS developer and AMD employee Lu Yinghai has asked on the LinuxBIOS mailinglist which desktop and laptop motherboards people would like to see supported by LinuxBIOS:

    This is a great opportunity for Dell to tell AMD what desktop and laptop motherboards you want to work with LinuxBIOS. LinuxBIOS is one of the most important campaigns by the Free Software Foundation because of the scary treacherous computing and bugs that plague proprietary BIOSes.

    Here’s a link to the new LinuxBIOS wiki page detailing plans for supporting LinuxBIOS on desktop and laptop motherboards. I highly encourage you to get in touch with Lu Yinghai on the LinuxBIOS mailinglist to let him know about the AMD-compatible motherboards Dell is selling on your open-source desktops (and hopefully laptops!)

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t it be great if all HW vendors could be permitted to ship systems with no OS/SW on them?  If the world actually knew what it was like to do a complete install from scratch with all the different OS’s and applications it would make a real difference in the landscape. 

    My family has a number of Dell systems.  My brother’s got a slightly older model that is still running WinXP but with no service packs because every time he tried to install them it trashed the system.  My Dell is about 3 years old and feeling slightly sick (some HW problems that all popped up a week after the 1 year service was up) but it’s still doing what I need it to do.  I did leave WinXP on for a few days, just to give it a look, but blew that off for Linux and haven’t looked back. 

    My mother just bought a shiny new desktop and already she’s had problems.  The system didn’t recognize her printer and she couldn’t find the driver CD that came with it.  Yes, I went online and downloaded the driver and all is well but her previous system was running Linux (a very old distro, to boot) and it recognized the printer out-of-the-box.  She’s already hinting that she wants her Linux back.  The probability that this box will be formatted and Linux installed is at 98% I’d say. 

    Anyway, my point is that there should be a fair and level playing field for all the HW and SW.  Dell shouldn’t be expected to support every OS/App combination in existence but why should any one vendor get special treatment?

  • Anonymous

    When will you do a better job of supporting Solaris – Linux is continuing to suffer from a degree of chaos (which you all helped drive last week at Oracle’s world event), and I’d like an alternative to Sun hardware.

  • Anonymous

    One way to get around the need to inventory both MSFT-preloaded and non-preloaded units of the same hardware is just to honor the refund clause of the MSFT EULA independently of the hardware — have people send in their MSFT sticker and media if any.

    Dell has recently done this.

  • Anonymous


    Can you please cover this story :

    We’re looking for dell users worldwide at :

  • Anonymous

    A Dell Laptop that is Windows-free? That sounds like a brilliant idea to me. I have been looking for a laptop (multi-core CPU, widescreen LCD display, 802.11g, suitable both for 3D gaming and playing DVDs) for a while, but off-the-shelf vendors always bundle a useless (to me) Windows license and a stack of unwanted programs. Personally, I don’t have money to spend on Microsoft software and would prefer to spend my meagre earnings on more RAM, better graphics or a faster CPU instead.

    A laptop preinstalled with FreeDOS sounds like my ideal solution. Even if Dell did install a Linux distribution, I doubt very much that Dell would partition the disk the way that I’d want it, so I’d almost certainly reinstall anyway. Better for Dell just to verify that the hardware works and then ship it.

    So when are these models going to become available, please?

    (PS I am still using my Dell Precision 650 with FC5. Nice machine, although dual 2.66 GHz Northwoods are starting to show their age. Too bad I could never upgrade them to Prescotts…)

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Chris Rankin — I already have two unsed Windows licenses from my old computers what are now defunct. Why do I need one more?

  • Anonymous

    I’m using Suse Enterprise Linux Desktop 10 on my Inspiron 640m and loving it! This is a really good Linux OS that Dell should look into providing as an install on their systems.

  • Anonymous

        I’ve been buying Dimension 5150s.  The integrated Intel video works out of the box with all the bling XOrg is putting out now.  I didn’t have any problem installing Fedora Core, everything just worked.

         It would be nice if I didn’t have to pay for an unused copy of XP but that’s about the only “downside” I saw to using them for Linux.  Thanks for making that happen.

  • Anonymous

    Bought 2 XPS M1210 in november.

    I evaluated the cost of the software package received with the computer to 20-25% of the price I paid to Dell. These softwares are of no use on GNU/linux systems. I advise any Dell customer to refuse the terms of the Dell Software Agreement Licence, delete every software, return the CDroms to Dell and install its own softwares. It is what I am trying to do in Japan, and the support is really reluctant in applying the Dell licence; isn’t it strange? The more people ask for software return (whole package or individualy), the more GNU/linux aware/friendly Dell support will become.

    On the GNU/linux compatibility point of view, my M1210 have several flows:
    – Buggy video bios (no 1280×800 mode for a notebook with 1280×800 panel) it is ridiculous. Moreover it is trivial to configure this in Intel kit, used for my bios.
    – Mic doesn’t work
    – No Video brigthness adjustment
    I am very pleased to see there is a mailing list ([email protected]) with competent Dell staff, trying to explain the above problems to the staff by phone is a waste of time.

    In conclusion I thing that a 5% participation from linux users in the GNU/linux compatibility effort would be far enough to get notebooks completly usable. It would still be a 15-20% save for gnu/linux users.

  • Anonymous

        I like many other Dell users would like to suggest that Dell pick a distibution of Linux that supports 3D grapics and wifi networking (it makes no difference which one) and certify it with the OS.  Then start with notebooks.  You’d be surpised how many in the community would support it.  Linux needs voice..  If we have your support, you’ll definitely have our’s.  Let it be Dell. 

  • Anonymous

    In 2005 I heard a story about Dell releasing the Latitude 110L pre-installed with Mandriva Linux. I read up on it, found that it was true, and went and purchased 2 Latitude 110L laptops. I installed several distro’s of Linux on it only to find there was nothing but problems. Only one distro even had support for the graphics. When you closed the lid, you had to restart the computer in order to get display back. Since then I have sold both laptops, and just gave up on the search. There are a few really small companies that provide laptops with Linux friendly hardware. That’s all I’m asking for. I will gladly install Linux myself. Most of the linux community is only asking that you use said hardware and offer the option of no operating system on all your systems. Okay I’m done ranting.

  • Anonymous

    I have hundreds of students each year–and i am sure there are millions across the globe that would like Dell to preload and support Linux (I think Ubuntu is clearly the best choice) across all laptops and desktops.  So anyone can go the Dell web site and spec out a PC and choose Linux (instead of Vista) and get Openoffice which comes with all Linux distros instead of MS Office.  It should be clear to the customer that the savings they will get by choosing Linux and OpenOffice instead of MS products that are overpriced.  If for some reason Dell can not do this because of some contract with Microsoft then let it be know to the Justice Dept. and the public since that would be hindering competition which everyone knows Microsoft does not play fair (e.g., Microsoft found guilty of maintaining a monopoly by using illegal means).  The market will respond favorably if Dell looks out for their interests and gives them choice is my belief.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, that’s a good point, go for it !

    And please, make that happend quickly, even in Europe and especially in France, where i live.

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Every time I buy a new Dell system for Linux use, I have the same problem. Most of the systems that *probably* will run Linux are offered with tons of hardware choices of unknown suitability; and the configurator only allows me to pick certain specific hardware components for each model. There is rarely an easy way to determine whether any particular device will in fact be recognized during a Linux install. (This is important for me, because I often have to talk a clueless client through the initial setup process via phone, to get to the moment of truth where I can ssh in and take over the setup process.) There is rarely enough detail in the configurator to determine exactly what make and model is being offered. Even when there is, the components listed are often so new that they don’t show up in driver lists — even though the listed Fubar 661B may be 100% compatible with the well known and solid Fubar 660A that I’ve been using. But of course it may not, and may leave me with an unbootable machine.

    The new Ubuntu 530N configuration is a good case in point. I’m glad it’s available, but why is there just ONE model? With just two CPU choices? I’m about to order one, under protest. I would prefer to choose one of the FreeDos models — but I am too afraid that one of the choices I make from the configurator might lead to a few days of wasted effort, or (worse) an unbootable system. I would hope that any component listed under a FreeDos model would be safe; but apparently that is not true. I am not finding *any* definitive list of Dell components available for order that are (say) “highly likely” to result in a clean Linux install.

    I know that full certification of a distro is a high hurdle for Dell; but surely somebody there could obtain a test unit for each model, install *all* the various offered hardware components, plug in an ISO for at least one major distro, and see whether the system comes up or not.