Lenovo Squelches Doubt


Company embroiled in Microsoft- vs. Linux-based desktop fracas


Desktop Linux is coming, but Lenovo executives are finding the technology to be an awkward dance partner after agreeing to a long-term relationship with Microsoft.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based computer maker took great pains last week to tell the world it will be ready, willing and able to support the forthcoming Novell SUSE Linux Desktop Enterprise 10, after one of its top marketing executives indicated otherwise.

"We will be recommending Windows, but at the same time we will significantly strengthen our support and commitments to the Linux community," said Marc Godin, Lenovo's worldwide vice president of marketing for its notebook business units.

Godin spoke publicly last week in an effort to calm wide-scale uproar over comments reported on crn.com by the company's Lenovo 3000 worldwide product manager Frank Kardonski that the company would be a Windows-only shop.

"We will not have models available for Linux, and we do not have custom order, either," Kardonski said. "What you see is what you get. And at this point, it's Windows."

In April, Lenovo and Microsoft signed an agreement "reaffirming" their global, joint marketing and development effortsa deal in which Microsoft "provides marketing resources and technical assistance" to Lenovo, which last year acquired the former IBM PC business.

In fact, IBM was among the first big PC makers to fully embrace Linux and for a while, had offered a lineup of ThinkPads with Linux preloaded before scaling back Linux to custom-ordered scenarios.

But in the wake of Kardonski's remarks and after a major uproar exploded on a series of Internet sites, including slashdot.com, Lenovo executives quickly backpedaled and said that was not the case. Linux, they said, is in the plans.

Godin, in fact, said that not only would Lenovo continue to preload Linux onto ThinkPads after customers purchased licenses on their own, but that the company was set to expand its support of Linux in about a month. That's when Novell is set to release its Linux desktop operating system. Godin said Lenovo has been working with Novell to make sure its product lines are ready to support it, although he stopped short of saying the company would preload the new Linux OS on any units.

"We are working very closely with Novell for that future release," Godin said.

Lenovo will continue to build its Lenovo 3000-branded systemstargeted at SMBswith only Windows operating systems.

"Because we want to address significant volumes we could not ... find an integrated solution with Linux that would serve well [their] individual requirements," Godin said.

Last month, several executives of channel companies said they would be willing to give Linux on the desktop a try as Microsoft worked feverishly to get its oft-delayed Vista operating system to OEMs by year's end.

If Lenovo had decided to shun Linux, it would have had little near-term impact on the channel or Lenovoa situation that eventually would change over time, one solution provider said.

"In the short term, no impact," said Norman Gaffney, cofounder of Garic, a New York-based solution provider and Lenovo partner. "In the long term, yes."

That, Gaffney said, could change, should Microsoft further delay its in-development Vista operating system. "Customers are always asking for something that's still a few years down the road, to have available today," Gaffney said.

Godin said Lenovo had no plans to change the placement of marketing
collateral on its product line, which states that "Lenovo Recommends Windows XP Professional." He stopped short of saying whether or not the company would preload the forthcoming version of Linux onto its desktops or notebooks, but said Lenovo would also boost its Linux support in conjunction with its July time-frame announcement.

From Novell's perspective, the company said it was receiving a good response from all major OEMs toward its future Linux release, including Lenovo.
"We continue to work with them," said Justin Steinman, director of
marketing for Linux and operating platform solutions.