What would you ask these guys about the desktop?

Tomorrow I'm also moderating a panel at OpenSource World, The State of Installed Desktops and Netbooks 2009.

What would you ask these guys?

  • Todd Finch, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Dell
  • Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier, Community Manager, Novell
  • Jono Bacon, Community Manager, Canonical
  • Rao Yeleswarapu, Marketing Manager for Moblin, Intel 

As a reminder:

  • Intel, a hardware company, recently launched Moblin, a software project that offers a whole new user interface for computing on netbooks.
  • Dell is one of first to offer Linux preinstalled on PCs and laptops.
  • Novell has employees using Linux desktops internally and offers it to customers.
  • Canonical has been working with different companies customizing the desktop to meet their customer needs.

So what would you ask them?

28 Replies to “What would you ask these guys about the desktop?”

  1. I would ask them all a question: What are the customizations that you make to GNOME but are not shipped with GNOME do you think should be shipped as a standard any why?
    Also it would be interesting to know how they think of GNOME 3.0 and what are they excited about and what do they think was too risky of a move!

  2. Both Novell (many many including the slab menu and whole story with XGL and others) and Canonical (notify-osd and whole notification system) unlike Red Hat routinely includes customizations that they never bother to upstream. I would ask them why.

  3. I will definitely ask. When I’ve asked similar questions in the past the answer I usually get is that they are in a hurry to do something for a paying customer, don’t have time to do all the discussion with the community and then when they are done, it’s not always something the community wants or something they can check into the latest release (as it was written for previous releases.)
    Is there a particular example you have that I could use in the question?

  4. When talking to Intel people: be sure to bring up the issue of the Poulsbo chipset and ask them how an otherwise excellent open-source company can screw up so badly when it comes down to supporting this chipset for Linux. This is true horror for users.

  5. Novell did it with XGL and the Slab menu changes
    The most recent would be Canonical and it’s effort on the new notification system which seems to be the only relatively major contribution in terms of code from them towards the desktop and they have started out in the wrong foot by not even looking at what is required to maintain it as part of a larger community.
    See the reply at
    I don’t for a moment believe that this is not because they don’t know the procedure or big customers are demanding that they ship a new notification system immediately. I am curious what drivers them to do this. If it just selfishness in wanting to include something unique, we need to find a better alternative than this.

  6. I’d ask them why they don’t use their collective market clout to pressure hardware vendors to a) produce Linux drivers, b) open-source their drivers or c) give driver developers the information they need to make open-source drivers.

  7. You do understand that Notify-OSD is an upstream project?
    Looking at your questions from MacSlow’s site you ignore the fact that Notify-OSD is a young project. Asking for it to be included at this time is unrealistic.
    Also do look up what contributions Canonical made. There is a wiki page.
    And distributions are free to have unique things in them. That’s the whole point of them. The code is open and nothing is stopping upstreams from adopting it. Comparing Novell to Canonical in this case is unwarranted. Everything Canonical includes in Ubuntu has a code repo on launchpad. Not everything has to come from the community. Sometimes it’s welcome that all the discussions on implementation are avoided and actual code is written.

  8. I’d ask about how open-source support and “standard” manufacturer support interface. Dell, for example, shipped a customized ubuntu with my mini-12 that was far more unstable than I’d ever known a linux machine to be — I believe because of the graphics driver; meanwhile, vanilla ubuntu couldn’t even boot on the chipset. A few months later, there was support for the machine in Ubuntu, and good support if I used a custom netbook PPA. Now that PPA works better than the version Dell created… but if I weren’t an expert linux user, I’d have no access to it. How can these companies (hardware manufacturers, hardware vendors, and software distributors) work together to leverage the open source community to improve the user experience for *all* users? Why isn’t Dell maintaining the PPA that actually works well with their product for their users? What is Dell’s commitment to providing users with updates to their OS after they buy it?

  9. What I would ask them hmm, 1> commitment to open source beyond their own projects (looking for a non BS answer too). 2> Jobs, do they see these products creating job opportunities for paying linux developers. I know these organizations most likely give some funding to organizations like gnome, but single developers matter much to me too. 3> a fun one, everyone’s personal experience using linux, and do they use it on a daily basis.
    I do like many other questions commented here, but it seems to me that these people may not be the best to ask some of them.

  10. “You do understand that Notify-OSD is an upstream project?”
    You want me to ignore all the patches included in Ubuntu that has not been send upstream again?
    “The code is open and nothing is stopping upstreams from adopting it”
    Bzzzt. Stop using this excuse. There has to be someone actively pushing these changes. It doesn’t just magically happen. Do you expect Linux kernel developers to go through random project websites and look for third party drivers and merge them as well? Don’t be ridiculous.

  11. Every year we get closer to the ‘Year of the Linux Desktop’ nirvana, and while we often make some good progress towards that goal there are some who are inevitably disappointed by how far we still have to go. What do the panelists think about how 2009 has evolved so far, and what critical things would they like to see make it happen?

  12. Please ask the Intel guy when Intel will release documentation and open source / free software firmware for their WiFi and WiMax chips.

  13. Please ask the Dell guy to get Dell to produce laptops with ARM CPUs and Pixel Qi screens that ship with the latest Debian release.

  14. Question for Novell and Canotical
    Photoshop has been voted the most important application to port to Linux, according to the initial results of a survey carried out by Novell 2006.
    Google is funding work to ensure that Photoshop will run on Linux.
    Why is no Distribution paying developers to work on Gimp, if it is so important to have a professional image manipulation program?

  15. I don’t think patching up the Gimp is the way forward in this regard. I think what’s really needed is for someone/team to step up to the plate and start the development of a productivity suite for Gnome/KDE.
    Aiming for total feature replication of a specific version would be the way to do it, much like Word 97 was *the* baseline for implementing word processors it’d remove any moving targets and allow people to *finally* stop their bitching about Linux lacking a decent X.
    I’d be more than happy to help as would possibly a few others. If someone wanted to fund it as well, then the more the merrier.

  16. Correction:
    Dell was not the first to ship linux preinstalled on desktops nor on laptops.
    Walmart had Lindows pre-installed Desktops in 2002:
    HP was offering a laptop with Suse preinstalled in 2004:
    Dell introduced Ubuntu desktops in… 2007.
    Give Dell the respect they are due of course for being currently active in shipping laptops and netbooks (they currently don’t have an Ubuntu desktop offering listed on their website), but try not to be revisionist about their historic role.

  17. neo:
    do you have representative patchset examples which have not be sent upstream? Have you done a survey of a large group of notify-osd related patches to get a feel for how well Canonical is doing? I looked at this a few of months ago and while the upstream submission rate was not perfect, I was able to track a given application patch submission to an upstream bugreport for most of the notify-osd specific patches I found during Jaunty’s release run up. But that was several months ago now, and the upstream submission rate might have dropped in that time. If you have a more recent patchscape survey that contradicts what I saw ealier, feel free to present the data and the analysis for review.

  18. Nice hedge in the correction. “One of the first…” is a very interesting construction as it uses an open-ended boundary for the honorific of being first. Its neither a factually correct nor a factually incorrect statement. It would be equally factual to say “One of the last…” as there’s no agreed on definition on where the boundary between the two categories is once you due away with the strict definition of first and last.
    But you asked for questions.. Here are mine.
    1)How important is the linux PC pre-installs to Dell strategically. Do linux pre-installs offer a higher per unit profit margin compared to windows pre-installs to OEMs like Dell? They’ve been without an Ubuntu desktop offering for weeks now on their US website. This isn’t something I would expect to see if Ubuntu desktop sales were a profitable venture…even if they are only 1 or 2 percent of total desktop sales.
    Do they plan to offer Linux pre-installed systems for sale at physical retailers like Best Buy? For example all the Dell offerings at Best Buy come with Windows XP I believe…but Dell has gone on record that Ubuntu makes up 1/3 of their netbook sales online. Is there a disconnect between retail and online purchasing patterns? Can they articulate that difference?

  19. I voted for correcting the post quickly over waiting to rewrite it more elegantly. Walmart no longer offers a Linux preload and I wanted to do more research on HP but I think they didn’t offer that one for long. (They do offer them again now – the HP Mini for example.)
    I’ve asked all the panelists to answer questions here.

  20. Yep, earlier effort to sell linux pre-installed have been short-lived…especially in retail outlets. Dell gets a head nod for sticking with its Ubuntu Desktop/laptop effort for 2 years or so for its online storefront. But do we know enough about that effort to say its a self-sustaining business? I think the last time a Dell rep commented on the relative strength of Ubuntu Desktop/laptop sales was in 2007: http://lxer.com/module/newswire/view/91429/
    which put Ubuntu sales expectation at 1% or 2%.
    They have since gone on record with more informations about Ubuntu netbook sales performance but we don’t know squat about laptop or desktop sales.
    But even netbooks aren’t all roses. You take a real hard look at purchasing patterns for netbooks, and you can’t ignore brick and mortar retail device sales..nearly all of which are windows. Even the subsidized netbooks that come with 3g wireless data contracts are Windows netbooks. Online sales are not the bulk of the netbook market… a market which started out as linux pre-installs when Asus introduced it EEE (its hard to count OLPC here as its not strictly a retail product..but historically it matters.) Over the last year its harder and harder to find any brick and mortar retailers selling any linux netbooks on store shelves. Does it make sense that you have to go to Toy ‘R Us to purchase a retail linux netbook? http://blogs.computerworld.com/go_to_toys_r_us_for_your_linux_netbook_needs

  21. Question to all OEM reps: Why is the Linux preload option usually hidden away or totally unavailable (even on fully compatible machines) even in the US market but especially globally. Also, why are their few Linux offerings practically always more expensive than similar systems with any MS OS, especially when it comes to the mainstream discounts system.
    One really outstanding example is the HP Mini 5101 netbook for which Linux and customization is only available at a $200 premium. For an already premium-priced netbook.
    The obvious result of these ongoing OEM tactics is that even those who’ve jumped through all the hoops to locate a Linux preloaded system will either find them at best greatly over-priced and uncustomizable or totally unavailable.

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