News that Dell will be selling its laptops with the option of pre-installing a flavour of the Linux open source distro Ubuntu (at least in the US) marks a significant shift in the computer market – not least because Linux will be “hitting the radar of Joe Consumer for the first time rather than flying under it for the benefit of the geek crowd alone” as the daniweb blog put it.

No need here to go into the ‘do-you-want-linux?’ ‘oh-you-do? ‘darn it’s awfully complicated‘ history between Dell and its user community. It’s more relevant that a distributor with strong commercial links to Microsoft has bothered to make the effort – and in terms of trends the bad news is all pointing at Microsoft.

Trend bad news no. 1: until now Microsoft has managed to use its weight in the market to keep channels in line and on message. I’m sure that Ubuntu-based computers will sell a fraction of Dell’s Vista machines, but the fact that the offer is now in the market at all suggests that Microsift’s market power is on the wane.

Trend bad news no. 2: it may mark the beginning of a very long road along which Microsoft’s presence in the consumer desktop market becomes less and less profitable (given that Google and other web 2.0 providers are also offering alternatives to its main products). It’s possible to envisage that by – say – 2030 Microsoft has either created open source versions of its products to stay in the consumer market, or is holding onto its intellectual property but selling at a token price (e.g. $10) or has abandoned the consumer PC market to concentrate on the enterprise market, where complex integrated products still command value, in effect following the IBM route.