wtogami (wtogami) wrote,

Dear Dell: Please Focus on Upstream and BIOS Quality

This is my personal response to Dell's call to fill out their Linux survey.  While I think it is positive that they are at least asking, I believe Dell is off the mark.

Instead of prioritizing on certain distros, it might be cheaper and more effective to prioritize on making sure that the upstream kernel and xorg work on your hardware out of the box.  That way if individual distros don't behave properly, you can rightly point to them not following upstream's lead.  That is a more realistic support policy.  This is how Dell can best be seen as a true partner to the Linux community.  Dell could implement this in a distribution neutral way that benefits everyone, and avoids alienating any distribution and associated customer base.  When participation is focused upstream, everyone wins.

How could this be implemented?
  • Dell's R&D test machines, BIOS, and typical add-on hardware with upstream kernel and xorg-x11.  In cases where specifications expect it, fix issues in the BIOS.  In other cases add proper hardware support to the upstream drivers and software.
  • Provide an online database of tested upstream versions and associated hardware combinations, so customers have a reasonable guide of which hardware to purchase.
  • Provide a "Known Issues" page that describes issues, both current and past, known details, and suggested fixes.  For example, "AHCI breaks suspend.  Fix is in kernel-2.6.24 and backported to FOO and BAR."  Customers may purchase hardware that is known to have certain problems, but they are forewarned about it.
  • DO NOT OFFER add-on hardware from your linux.dell.com configurator if it hasn't been tested and listed by the above.
  • PREFER TO OFFER hardware that uses only 100% FOSS drivers.  It is actually possible to support such drivers because you have the source code.  Furthermore, Dell has less risk, by avoiding distribution of software with inherent copyright violations.
Dell hardware "tested for upstream software" cannot have the same guarantees in a SLA that you are used to.  Charge slightly less for this, because customers could reasonaby be pointed at these largely automated online resources.  These customers instead pay for "best faith" effort to provide all known compatibility information, and a reasonable level of engineer participation to improve the worst issues in the upstream software and BIOS.   You could create micro-communities of owners with different hardware configurations.  These communities, if well organized with the right tools, could save a great deal of your company's time and money by helping each other.  Provide information consolidation and escalating paths, along with a few accountable Dell employees to maintain responsible connections between these communities and the relevant Dell engineers.

Dell could separately certify specific hardware to work with specific software, and provide higher level (more expensive) SLA's on those combinations.  But that is beyond the scope of this particular rant.

A side note regarding BIOS quality...
Furthermore, it seems like your recent laptop BIOS was never tested with anything other than Windows, requiring many manual hacks to get Linux working smoothly.  Sure everyone now knows to use 915resolution, but is it really too much to expect that for the BIOS to know about the resolution of its own screen?  Some apologists try to distract and blame Linux, but annoying issues of your latest laptops are inherent to the design (sound control) or BIOS quality (resolution, ACPI behavior), and simply are not issues with certain competitors' laptops.  (Yes, I personally question the quality of the D620 and D820 series, relative to similarly priced laptops from competitors.)
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