Michael Dell, who has built his vast fortune selling Windows PCs, was full of praise this morning for the Linux operating system.
In a speech at the start of the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here, the chairman and chief executive officer of Dell Computer Corp. said the open-source operating system is growing in popularity among businesses, and can offer a compelling, low-cost alternative for running servers than costly Unix platforms from rivals like Sun Microsystems Inc.
"The open-source collaborative development model, I believe, is built to succeed in the Internet age, and it makes more sense than the proprietary model of some of our competitors," Dell said.
In particular, he cited cost advantages of Linux over Sun's Solaris platform, as well as the speed with which developers can introduce new features to Linux. He also praised the peer review process of open-source development, in which a loose-knit community of developers work together on Linux code to refine and improve it.
Dell is just one of a several major hardware vendors that have thrown their weight behind Linux in recent months. Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. also offer Intel-based Linux servers. The fact that customers can choose Linux servers from a variety of vendors also makes it a compelling choice for businesses, he said.
"We believe that Dell and Linux together are a very powerful combination as large and small businesses build out their Internet infrastructure," he said, adding that Linux offers a "significant growth opportunity for Dell."
The Dell chief kept his remarks geared mostly towards the server market, perhaps out of deference to his biggest partner, Microsoft Corp., whose Windows operating system ships on the vast majority of Dell's desktop and notebook computers.
He did reveal, however, that Dell is in "active discussions" with Eazel Inc., a software company that's developing desktop applications that are designed to make Linux easier to use. Dell is displaying PCs at its booth running Eazel's software, and Michael Dell claimed to have prepared his presentation for today's speech using Eazel's desktop file manager.
The use of Linux on desktops has been restricted for the most part to computer enthusiasts, in large measure because the operating system is more complicated to install and operate than Windows.
Linux has a "significant opportunity" on the desktop, Dell said. The number of desktop PCs that ship with Linux is close to the number that are sold based on Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh operating, Dell said, a fact he called "impressive."
Linux's share of server OS shipments has grown from 4 percent in the first quarter of 1999 to almost 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, Dell said, citing figures from International Data Corp. (IDC). Between 1999 and 2004, IDC expects Linux to enjoy a compound annual growth rate of almost 30 percent, he said.
After his keynote, which included little in the way of surprises, Dell gamely fielded some tough questions from the audience of Linux experts.
One representative from clothing retailer The Limited Inc. asked whether Dell could be relied on to provide the same level of Linux services as those offered by IBM Corp. and VA Linux Systems Inc.
"How do I know you guys are really committed and you're not just trying to sell more hardware?" asked Clyde Williamson, a Limited developer and Linux enthusiast, who described his job title as "hacker."
Dell fielded the question cooly.
"Customers are voting with their dollars and their feet today," he said. "Is Dell ever going to be a developer of the Linux kernel and OS? No we're not. But what you'll see Dell do is what we've always been good at" -- providing customers with good quality, affordable hardware, he said.
More information about the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo is on the Web at http://www.linuxworldexpo.com/. More information on Dell can be found at http://www.dell.com/.