Monday, May 28, 2007

Dell Ubuntu XPS 410n On The Way

I ordered my first Dell PC on Saturday afternoon. It's an XPS 410n Desktop Computer with a special Operating System preloaded onto it: Ubuntu.

I am an end user.

I started to build it online at Dell's online sales process is a fine-tuned machine. I'm really impressed with how simple it is to put together a computer custom-made on

It's a very smooth, step-by-step process with a progress bar along the way. Each tab has a video explainer if you're stumped on which option to choose. I watched the video about choosing the right optical drive. The video carefully detailed the different options and advantages to each of them.

The steps were:

"Select your processor" (For an extra $50, I upgraded from the Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor E4300 (2MB L2 Cache,1.8GHz,800FSB) to the Intel® Core™ 2 E6320 Duo Processor(4MB L2 cache,1.86GHz,1066FSB). I can't wait to try out the Intel Core 2 Duo chip.

"Select your Operating System": Between the Ubuntu Service Support Packages, I chose the basic one: Ubuntu Feisty Fawn version 7.04 without any support (no added charges). (There were options for 30-days starter support for $65, 1-year basic support for $125 or 1-year standard support for $275 - these options will likely be the Canonical support offered through Dell - not sure if there's any price break here from what Canonical charges through its Global Support Services Group.)

"Select My Memory" - I bumped up the default memory of 1GB to 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 2 DIMMs.

"Select My Hard Drive" - Went with the default option here. 250GB is plenty. But you could go as high as 500GB.

"Select My Optical Drive" - upgraded to the Dual Drives: 48x Combo + 16x DVD+/-RW w/ dbl layer write capable.

"Select My Monitors" - I selected "No Monitor" (had to scroll down a little to see this option) and saved $170. (Dell's "Compatibility Instructions" popped up at this point to let me know that the default speakers on the XPS needed a monitor upon which to be attached and were not free standing. I chose "Fix it later".)

"Select My Video Card" - XPS only has one option: the 256MB nVidia Geforce 7300LE TurboCache [Included in Price]

"Select My Sound Card" - only had one option: Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio (Included in Price)

"Select My Speakers" - Selecting no speakers here saved me $10 and "fixed" the previously mentioned "No Monitor" issue with the flat panel speakers.

"Select My Keyboard & Mouse" - upgraded from the regular issue USB keyboard to the Multimedia keyboard with volume control nob & control buttons for $25. (I'm curious to see how well this works on Ubuntu.)

"Select My Mouse" - only had one option: Dell Optical USB Mouse.

"Select My Power Protection" - no thanks.

"Select My External Backup & Storage" - no thanks.

"Select My Floppy & Media Reader" - upgrade to the 13 in 1 Media Card Reader (adds $20 to price - but, oh the convenience for uploading photos.)

"Select My Warranty & Service" - 1Yr In-Home Service, Parts + Labor - Next Business Day (included in price).

"Select My Protection Against Accident" - no thanks.

"Select My Environmental Options" - no thanks, but yes, I will make certain my old Sony VAIO running Feisty Fawn will go to a happy family rather than the trash heap.

"Checking the Status of Your Build" Progress Bar (excitement builds!)

"REVIEW MY SUMMARY Congratulations! Your system is ready to be built."

(No telephone modem included in system - pesky Wintel modems!) wasn't giving me any options for TV tuner or internal wireless card. (I want to be ready to install Ubuntu Media Center as soon as it comes out!) had a nice post about the different Dell Ubuntu offerings. The article mentioned that the XPS was the only desktop that had three PCI slots. So I called up the 800 number. Tony from Nashville walked me through the rest of the sale. He checked with his manager to see if they were offering internal wireless as an option on the XPS desktop. A couple of minutes later no was the answer. That didn't surprise me. But I figured I'd rather check than not be certain. These are easy additions later on down the line.

Speaking with Tony, I found out about Dell's rather generous 12-month free financing offer. I took them up on this offer. I should receive the computer by June 5th.

I told my wife all about the new Dell Ubuntu PC headed our way. She's a Mac girl. She knows well my enthusiasm for Ubuntu. So I think she humored me a bit after I told her about our new acquisition.

"Why didn't you just purchase a Windows PC & dual boot it with Ubuntu?"

"Good question, babe. I suppose I did it to support freedom of choice. I am really excited about a "Choose Your Operating System" option being available. But I guess there's a pretty strong quotient of idealism behind my decision too. It's the principle of the thing."

"I think that's great, Pablo. What does Linux do that Windows or Mac doesn't do?"

"Wow - another good question, babe."

"Well, I'm not trying to second guess you here. I'm just curious about all of this."

"Linux is a very stable OS - like your Mac."

"I see."

"And it's free. And it's ALWAYS going to be free. That means no DRM, no spyware, no malware, no viruses, no costly upgrades, no worrying about whether your software is genuine Windows issue, no worrying about inputting a 25-character software key in order to obtain permission to install or reinstall something. That also means no more worrying about some company's fourth quarter report driving my software into early obsolescence. That means being able to copy my contacts from one e-mail program to another without an upgrade being bullied upon me. That means uploading and downloading anything I choose off and onto my iPod."

"Honey, why don't we watch a little golf? The Colonial is on television."

"OK OK. I can get a little carried away with this stuff, huh?"

"Don't worry - I know it's a passion for you."

"Thanks, babe. Who's on the leaderboard?"

"I think it's Bernhard Langer."

Thanks to Dell for offering Ubuntu, my favorite OS, on their rock solid PC's. It's good to see a Texas company in the vanguard on this one. Thanks to the Ubuntu Community and Mark Shuttleworth for getting this newbie onto the Linux bandwagon.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Dellighted about Ubuntu

This week brought the announcement that Dell will soon offer desktops & laptops with Ubuntu Linux installed. Of note is that these are marketed for the end-user, not just for servers or some enterprise solution. My friend Leo just bought a Toshiba laptop with Vista on it. He's frustrated with the gunk that's on it. Back in the day, Leo used to be quite the computer user - we're talking Windows 3.1 days. He was one of those guys who was quick to break out a DOS command line. But ever since Windows 95, he's shied away from such tinkering. Suffice it to say that he's become a computer minimalist - he uses his computers for AutoCAD, e-mail & surfing the web. Anything beyond that and he can't be bothered - too much mucking about in the registry. I can't say that I blame him.

I'm delighted about Dell finally offering something else besides "Dell recommends Microsoft Windows". In a world that's dominated by the web, what OS you choose to use should be a secondary concern. The comparison could be automobiles. They all do the same thing: cars get you from point A to point B. But you have freedom of choice as to what kind of complexity you want in a car. You can get a Corolla or a Cadillac. If you prefer an OS that isn't bloated beyond reason, requires no slug-inducing antivirus suite, (can anyone say: clean sweepers, antispyware solutions, antivirus definition updates & firewall protection? or 60 apps that you'll never bother to install or open?), choose Linux.

My 8 year old Sony VAIO desktop (which Leo helped me purchase on uBid refurbished) came installed with Windows 98SE. I had upgraded to XP back in 2002. After a year or two of XP, the VAIO had bogged down & needed a fresh install. But since Microsoft had only sold me the update, reinstalling that OS was a paralyzing concern. I would have to reinstall Windows 98, then stick in the Windows XP Update CD, install antivirus packages, then spend a few hours updating XP to SP2 & all the different critical security updates. No thanks. The hardware was working fine. It was the software that was causing the problems.

Having used Mozilla Firefox, GAIM, Open Office, AbiWord & Thunderbird on Windows, I knew that Open Source Free Software was a viable option. It was cross-platform and worked like a charm. Not to mention that it provided me innovative & free features that were never a possibility from commercial vendors. Was it time for me to install a Linux distro on my VAIO? Maybe...

I was intrigued by the Linux story. But I feared the command line. You see, I had never been a DOS master like Leo was at one point. My first computer was a hand-me-down Mac. So I needed to know that I could point and click my way through things. Enter Ubuntu. I took the plunge after reading about "Linux for Human Beings". It installed in a snap. My Sony VAIO was instantly more responsive and fast. Ubuntu runs on it like a champ. To say I've gotten my use out of that computer is an understatement. Ubuntu really helped me stretch it out.

Soon I will retire the Sony VAIO Ubuntu desktop. You see, it's time for a new computer.

Why not Apple?

Four years ago, I convinced my parents to dump Windows and purchase an iMac. They took the plunge after some strong arm tactics, I confess. I explained to them that I would no longer be their IT go-to-guy if they bought another Windows box. Their last computer was a Gateway with Windows 98 on it. Despite having antivirus, it got infected. Fixing it turned out to be a nightmare. I was shocked at how the antivirus phone support washed their hands of the situation. Gateway's service plan had long ago expired. So I had no options.

They've had no trouble whatsoever with the iMac. It could use a little more RAM now that it's running OSX Tiger, but I'm quite pleased with the way that purchase has worked out. So much so, that I encouraged my older brother to do the same. So back over Xmas, he bought his first Mac since 1985.

I had expected that my next computer purchase would be a Mac. My wife has always had one for work. But I think I'm going to go with the Dell Ubuntu option. I'm genuinely excited about computers again. I don't fear the command line like I used to. Ubuntu's latest release, Feisty Fawn, is a cinch to use. Apple's great. I love that their reemergence has galvanized the consumer marketplace. I love the iPod. I love iTunes. The iPhone is poised to reinvigorate a stale cell phone marketplace. But Apples are pricey. They are the BMW of computers. All I need is the Honda Accord equivalent: Dell running Ubuntu.

That Dell is a Texas company, on the comeback trail and employs a good friend of mine (Hi Tim!) is icing on the cake. I've always had Dell PC's at work. They've always been reliable workhorses. So I will soon purchase a Dell Ubuntu PC.

Here's an interview at Dell Headquarters in Round Rock, TX with Mark Shuttleworth - South Africa's mercurial network security billionaire. He's young and enthusiastic - sort of like Mark Cuban (if you can imagine what it would have been like had Mark Cuban not purchased the Dallas Mavericks and instead dedicated his millions to the Open Source Movement).

If any of my loyal readers would like to try out Ubuntu on their PC or Mac, drop me a post and I'll be happy to send you a Live CD that you can use to test out Ubuntu before an installation. I think you'll be impressed with the product.