I think one of the best examples of how free software can work great (and be even be sold) is Dell’s adoption of Ubuntu. They can take free software (Ubuntu) and custom-tailor it to work on their specific laptops and desktops. They can even custom-compile their own Linux kernels that they don’t contain extemporaneous junk for hardware not in their computers. This could make an overall fast and efficient machine! Their software has to remain free, so people can examine it and suggest ways to improve Dell’s flavor of Ubuntu, tell Dell about something that’s in Ubuntu that’s they’d like to see automatically included in the Dell release (like DVD support), and they can even submit patches to Dell if they know how to code. Plus, if Dell finds a problem and figures out how to solve it, the fix can be pulled back upstream to the regular Ubuntu release. Even more importantly, a user can decide to take Dell’s flavor of Ubuntu and make their own version of it (if Dell does something poorly that they won’t fix it, for example). Not to mention, Dell is a big company. If they’re having problems getting hardware that will work under Ubuntu, there’s going to be more pressure for hardware vendors to support their products freely.
Some people are attracted to Ubuntu and other Linux distributions because many of them don’t cost anything. Thus, a computer can be $100 cheaper to buy because Dell doesn’t have to charge you the $100 for a Microsoft Windows license. What I’d like to see is for Dell to actually charge a little bit of money for Ubuntu. Not $100, mind you, but how about $20-30? I don’t want Dell keeping the profits from this though. Rather, I’d like to see them make some major contributions to the FSF and the Ubuntu project. Or they could make the $20-30 donation optional. The FSF even encourages the selling of free software. This will help foster growth of their system, and it’s a solid investment on their behalf. Plus, I don’t think many users would complain about being charged a nominal fee as long as they know it’s to help support the growth of their new operating system.