To my knowledge, this is the first time Dell has ever offered any non-Microsoft operating system on their desktops. Until today, it was quite literally impossible to decline the Windows license when you bought a desktop from Dell. If you bought a desktop PC from Dell, you got -- and paid for -- a copy of Windows, whether you wanted it or not. This is commonly referred to as "The Microsoft Tax". Offering a free desktop operating system is effectively the same thing as selling hardware without any operating system.
Whether you're a fan of the latest open source operating systems, or just a fan of plain old-fashioned consumer choice, the end of the Microsoft tax is a win for customers. I was a little worried that Dell would charge extra for the privilege, but it looks like they played fair and square:
|Dell Dimension E520||Dell Dimension E520N|
|CPU||Core 2 Duo E4300 1.86 GHz||Core 2 Duo E4300 1.86 GHz|
|RAM||1 GB DDR2||1 GB DDR2|
|Hard Drive||250 GB||250 GB|
|Video||Integrated Intel GMA X3000||Integrated Intel GMA 950|
|OS||Windows Vista Home Premium||Ubuntu Desktop Edition 7.04|
The hardware is essentially identical. We can infer that Dell's price for a Windows Vista Home Premium license is $80. An OEM copy of Home Premium runs about $129, so it's cheaper to buy the license from Dell than it is to buy one yourself. But if you have no intention of running Windows, you just saved eighty bucks.
Kudos to Dell for doing the right thing and ending the Microsoft Tax. It's also quite possible today will be looked back on as an important turning point in the history of desktop computing.