Today we received word from various sources that the OEM giant Dell would be pre-loading Ubuntu on some of it's machines. It started with rumor, which got attention on its own, then a reasoned look at plausibility, and finishing with a credible source. Additionally, Dell's own web site began offering official support info. While I'll believe it when I see a page to order them on Dell's site, things look very promising.
Clearly, some of us get excited merely by the prospect of a significant news story involving our distribution of choice. However, some stories go beyond just having the media spotlight for a day. This, I believe, could be one of those. Since many of the usability, feature, and software availability issues in Linux have been taken care of in recent years, one of the largest things holding potential switchers back has been hardware, both the compatibility of Linux with their current hardware, and the ability to buy hardware with Linux already on it. Dell preloading would do a great deal to solve both.
By offering systems, Dell to some extent agrees to support them, at least to the extent of having fully functional hardware, which means there will be more big-brand machines that work fully after an initial installation. The pre-loading aspect could do wonders for bringing in the fringe groups, people who have somewhat considered Linux of some kind, but don't want to put a lot of effort into it. Buying a new computer, placing a ShipIt request, waiting for the CDs, and then walking through the installation, while not difficult, it more than many people would prefer to do. If properly marketed, pre-loaded computers from a highly recognizable source could be the thing that tips a lot of people over the edge to say, "Hey, why not?", and give Ubuntu a try. However, if Dell's "offering" of these machines is anything like Lenovo's of SuSE-loaded laptops (where you have to hunt all over the site only to find that you have to special-order them over the phone), little is likely to happen other than satiating a few geeks of the world. So, Dell, please display all options you offer prominently. Everyone reading this, if they do, link to the relevant pages so people become aware. Leave a link in the comments here too while you're at it.
To the frustrated computer users of the world, Linux has matured, and in my opinion, Ubuntu is one of many fantastic distributions to see for yourself with. Now the only matter left is how you will get your hands on it. It seems Dell will be adding one more possibility to the list.
Note that Dell is not the first to offer Ubuntu-loaded systems - it is notably simply by virtue of its size and market share. I would also like to draw your attention to the smaller, but more focused company System76, which specializes in Ubuntu desktops, laptops, and servers, and has been gaining a very positive reputation throughout the community.
[Edit: It seems Canonical changed its mind or something about whether this is public yet and has taken some actions to keep it quiet longer; Jono is asking around to figure out why that happened. Hopefully there will be official clarification and rectification of the censorship soon, but this is what we have to work on for now.]
[Edit 2: We have the clarification now: http://www.ubuntu.com/news/dell-to-offer-ubuntu and http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2007/05/01/13147.aspx are the official announcements.]
[Edit 3: The news got picked up by the BBC - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6610901.stm]