HP To Expand Effort On Linux PCs

Hewlett-Packard, the world's Number 1 PC maker, will try selling pre-loaded Linux on PCs in several countries as it expands a test program -- evaluating a market that some competitors have already entered -- and moves its personal computer business into a new generation of form factors and functionality.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is in the nascent stages of a pilot program in Australia, where it offers a model of its HP PCs pre-loaded with Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop 5 for small and mid-sized businesses. Brian Schmitz, director of product marketing for HP's business PCs, said the company is looking at results from the effort in Australia, and is gearing up to take the Linux pre-loads multi-nationally.

"We have seen interest in certain parts of the world," Schmitz said. "We're going to try some things in other countries with pre-loaded Linux. It's really hard to gauge. There's always a lot of noise around Linux but the demand isn't there."

Currently, HP certifies Red Hat's Linux as well as SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 for its PCs, makes drivers available for download on the Web, and works with companies and organizations to deliver piece parts necessary to load a Linux-based custom image onto PCs. The company has also filled large deployment orders for Linux-based PCs on a custom basis. Schmitz said the U.S. is among the countries where HP is considering providing pre-loaded Linux on personal computers.

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"It's one (country) we're considering," Schmitz said, noting that HP has seen large deployments of Linux especially in some education accounts in the U.S., including in state of Indiana public schools and public schools in San Diego, Calif. In Indiana, custom system builders including Ace Computers, Arlington Heights, Ill., were called on to help deploy Linux PCs while in San Diego, solution provider Arey Jones was contracted to deliver Lenovo systems loaded with SLED 10.

"We've been actively talking with a lot of larger school districts about it," Schmitz said.

Also this year, Dell, Round Rock, Texas, has begun offering some PCs pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux and Lenovo, Raleigh, N.C., has begun offering some ThinkPads pre-loaded with SLED 10.

"They already do it in a server environment," said Michael Worsham of MWE Computer Services, an Edgefield, S.C.-based solution provider and HP partner. "If they go to do the same thing with a PC environment, that would be a good thing, too - - as long as they don't take the Dell route and put Ubuntu on them."

HP has previously offered Linux pre-loaded onto PCs -- an effort it made several years ago -- but the systems never took off. Today, HP, which has the world's Number 1 market share position in PCs, is shipping a new lineup of desktops with ultra small form factors, gaming capabilities and all-in-one designs; all run Windows.