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 http://linux.dell.com/desktops.shtml 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, firstname.lastname@example.org(subscribe and read archives at http://lists.us.dell.com). 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.