Dell Listens to GNU/Linux Community - Will It Pay Off?
A Little History
Considering Dell's long history with Microsoft, one has to wonder why Dell is venturing into the GNU/Linux waters. Face it. Dell has been in Microsoft's bed from the beginning. They are a Tier 1 Microsoft Windows computer manufacturer. Yet, over the last several years, they have attempted to sell computers with Red Hat Linux to consumers, successfully built a Red Hat-oriented server line, and now are wading back into the consumer GNU/Linux waters. What gives? Is Dell groping for the community in a last ditch effort to remain relevant, or are they really listening?
In order to answer that question, we need to consider some important facts. Dell's GNU/Linux server business has actually led to a strong GNU/Linux community within Dell. The Dell forums include a forum for GNU/Linux users. Dell supports at least 8 GNU/Linux and FOSS projects. Dell's Linux community forums have threads going back as far as November, 1999. 2007 is when things begin to get really interesting though.
Dell announced Michael's return on 31 January of this year. Just two weeks later, on February 17th, Dell launched IdeaStorm. In addition, Dell operates other sites, such as Direct2Dell, Ideas In Action, and StudioDell..But Dell didn't stop there. Dell representatives have been visiting blogs and news sites, including LXer, to engage the GNU/Linux community directly. These encounters have proven to be both lively and fairly useful.
The Dialog at LXer
When John Pope, a Dell spokesperson, visited LXer, the editorial team and readers were able to provide just the kind of feedback Dell needs to hear. In a thread started by Pope himself, LXer reader Libervis laid out the general demands of the GNU/Linux community:
Quoting:Pope responded that he would carry Libervis' points, verbatim, to the product team at Dell. Pope also took the time to work with LXer's editorial team to correct misleading advertising links. All that sounds pretty good. How well will it work?
Dell's Listening efforts
LXer followed up with Pope to learn more about Dell's outreach program, as well as to inquire about the Google ad campaign. By visiting Dell's Conversations website, readers can see what the company is doing to interact with customers. StudioDell offers technical information via videos and podcasts. Direct2Dell is Dell's blog. IdeaStorm is where users can let Dell know what they are thinking. Ideas in Action is essentially where Dell determines what ideas from IdeaStorm get implemented.
Looking at the big picture, it's easy to see how Dell might win customers' confidence. Customers see an opportunity to communicate directly to Dell - focus groups should have died with the '80's. Dell then announces what they have chosen to act on, meaning customers potentially get to see their ideas implemented. Simultaneously, there is plenty of interaction and community building going on through the studio, the blog and the outreach project.
Like most other Dell spokespeople, Pope uses "Dell" in his username, thus clearly designating who he represents. This is a far cry from the shills and astroturfing deployed by some companies. Pope also made no excuses for Dell's public relations department, which had previously failed to respond to phone calls, etc. in an effort to raise questions about misleading advertising links. Clearly, Dell knows they face a credibility problem and are working to correct it.
Much depends on how well they are listening. When I asked Pope whether the higher-ups were really listening, he replied (partial quote), "...Our online outreach augments our listening, and the process is simple and unbureaucratic...as in forwarding excerpts to full conversations that may have nuggets of info/insight directly to product and/or marketing decision makers." This is what he was referring to when he promised he would pass on Libervis' comment.
Challenges For Dell
I really get the impression that Michael walked into his office and said, "Let's stop, look and listen". I have pointed out how hard Dell seems to be working, and highlighted the obviously coherent and well-coordinated plan. Still, re-earning trust is an uphill battle. Customers have long memories and they definitely remember that problem that took weeks or months to resolve - if it ever did get resolved. And the GNU/Linux community has not yet forgotten that Dell quietly quit offering Red Hat for its consumer lineup.
Dell has finally returned to the Penguinista colony, and even chosen a specific distribution. And in so doing, Dell must not treat our community as second-class citizens. They absolutely, positively must market their Ubuntu boxes heavily. They must make it easy to find the Ubuntu boxes, and they must omit the infamous "Microsoft tax" from those computers. Last, but not least, they definitely need to release libre drivers for their hardware. We don't want no stinking proprietary binary crap in our systems.
If Dell falls short on the crucial points, they'll be in for a rude awakening. Not everyone will balk. But many will. Then it will be even more difficult to overcome the recalcitrance of the community. It all depends on how well Dell is listening right now. If, on the other hand, Dell does well on these crucial points, and lets our community know just how serious they are about having a good working relationship, even those who wouldn't buy Dell's computers for themselves will, in many cases suggest Dell to others nonetheless. That's the kind of thing goodwill can buy.
We'll see some glitches along the way. Happens all the time. For example, we still see Dell Linux Computer ads in the Google ad banner on LXer. In talking with Pope, he mentioned that Dell has several business units, all of whom have to address the keyword issue - something that may take time, if it can be reasonably done. Additionally, When Dell launches its Ubuntu product line, they will be able to direct people to the appropriate links. Even then, there are likely to be glitches.
Note: Edited to reflect the fact that Michael Dell founded his company in 1984. He started out in his dorm room as "PC's Limited". Thanks to our readers for catching the error.
Dell has not been completely successful in its efforts to correct the Google ad campaign issues:
The source URL contains a Google ad banner showing "Dell Linux Computer" on the left, and "Linux Rtos" on the right:
|Subject||Topic Starter||Replies||Views||Last Post|
|Dell is indeed listening||mdomsch||58||2,237||May 13, 2007 10:18 AM|
|Do we need Dell?||Cathy_at_Za||12||1,138||May 12, 2007 5:24 AM|
|Suggestion to Dell||jrm||12||1,151||May 11, 2007 8:43 PM|
|Founded in 1997???||schestowitz||1||1,007||May 11, 2007 6:26 PM|
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