Dell started asking its customers what kind of Linux they prefer, as the struggling PC vendor ponders a popular request for computers that run Linux instead of Windows.
Dell posted the survey on a company blog, asking PC users to choose between Linux flavours such as Fedora and Ubuntu, and to make more general choices such as notebooks versus desktops, high-end models versus value models, and telephone support versus community-based support.
The company plans to collect votes until 23 March, then use the feedback to begin selling Linux-based consumer PCs. Dell already uses Linux in certain server models.
"Taking a few minutes to complete this survey will help us define our forthcoming Linux-based system offerings," said Dell software architect Matt Domsch in his blog posting. "We'll take some time to analyse your feedback and work to provide the platforms and options you choose."
The groundswell of demand for Linux began in February, shortly after company founder Michael Dell returned as CEO. Previous chief executive Kevin Rollins resigned in January as the company began to suffer from drooping profits, delayed financial filings, an accounting investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and an investor lawsuit.
As part of his campaign to help the company renew its profits and regain market share from Hewlett-Packard, Michael Dell launched a web site to collect customer feedback. Users immediately filled the site with requests for alternatives to Microsoft's Windows Vista and Office suite, such as Linux and OpenOffice.
On 23 February, Dell said it would work with Novell to certify its Suse Linux on business PCs, including OptiPlex desktops, Latitude notebooks, and Dell Precision workstations. Dell also said it will work with other Linux providers since users requested many other versions of the OS.
Although Michael Dell's populist approach is winning some praise, the change may come too late to save company profits in the short term. On Tuesday, a prominent analyst noted that Dell has been cutting the number of notebooks it orders from manufacturers in Taiwan.
While the industry as a whole is expected to rebound in March from a sales slump preceding the launch of Windows Vista, Dell will deviate from that trend and trim its order for notebook manufacturing, said Citigroup analyst Richard Gardner in the report.
Dell did not respond to a request for comment on the forecast.
Dell is struggling financially, listing revenue and earnings growth at four-year lows even as its competitors begin to trim their costs and boost profits, Gardner said. At the same time, Dell faces future challenges as it sees slowing growth in its major markets, aggressive pricing by competitors willing to sell PCs at lower margins, and a general decline in prices as consumers find they can run more software on low-end PCs.
Still, Dell's PC production remains slightly above the consensus forecast, Gardner said. In fact, the report counselled investors that HP and Apple stock could rise faster than expected in the first half of 2007, and Dell will follow with strong long-term growth, beating estimates over a 12-to-18-month time span.
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