As Dell and Acer Duke it Out, Their Open Source Stances Matter

by Ostatic Staff - Jun. 29, 2009

For so many years, Taiwan-based Acer was an under-the-radar computer manufacturer. Although it has been the number three player, behind Hewlett-Packard and Dell, for a long time, even the company's previous business strategy tended to keep it anonymous. Acer used to make computers that other companies would put their brands on. It was better known overseas than in the United States.

All that is changing now--big time--and how both Dell and Acer approach open source is an important component of the competition between the two companies. As The New York Times reports, Acer now stands a good chance of surpassing Dell as the number two computer manufacturer. Among other things, Acer made shrewd moves in the laptop arena, particularly when it comes to netbooks.

The New York Times quotes Roger L. Kay, an analyst and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, as saying "Acer is a real comer," and Intel CEO Paul Otellini as saying "they have done a spectacular job." The Times also gets most of the reasons why Acer is threatening to surpass Dell. Acer quit its strategy of making no-name PCs that others could put their brands on a few years ago. It shifted its focus toward laptops, which has paid off as consumers have started to buy more laptops than business people do. (That same trend has hurt Dell.) Its line of Aspire One netbooks is a huge hit, based in part on slick, consumer-friendly designs, and larger keyboards than many netbooks have.

Acer ships its Aspire One netbooks in both Windows and Linux versions. Meanwhile, Dell has a new line of netbooks out, which are available with either Windows or Ubuntu. Dell would like to have the same kind of success that Acer has had in the netbook arena, but that may take time, and Dell is suffering from a punishing business hardware buying environment.

Dell has recently launched an effort to ship computers to buyers in the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market, pre-loaded with free, open source software. The effort is dubbed "SMB in-a-box." Meanwhile, Acer seems to be putting more focus on selling Windows-based laptops and netbooks than on Linux-based ones, although the company does have plans to ship Android netbooks starting in the third quarter.

I'm betting that Dell's SMB in-a-box strategy may work well, as smaller business face tough economic times. That's especially likely if Dell supports the bundled open source software. It will take time for the company to catch up to Acer in the netbook arena, but I like the fact that buyers of Dell netbooks can pick Windows or Ubuntu.

If Dell, which has always had a close partnership with Microsoft, continues to explore new ways to offer consumers and businesses cost-savings and efficiencies through open source software, it can only improve the company's odds in competing with Acer. That competition has become a game of inches.