HP makes desktop Linux mainstream

Novell has signed agreements with IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) to expand support for its Suse Linux operating system on their servers and PCs, respectively.

HP said it will work with Novell on Linux-powered PCs for businesses that want an alternative to Windows and only need access to certain specialized applications. The PCs could be well-suited for call centers and support centers, for example, where workers only need database and e-mail software, HP said.

The deal is part of Novell's Linux-orientated makeover, highlighted at the company's BrainShare conference this week in Salt Lake City, and follows on from previous HP experiments with Linux on the desktop. HP's announcement shows that the company considers Linux a serious rival to Windows on desktop PCs, at least for certain types of workstations.

Last week, HP launched a line of business-oriented PCs in 12 Asian countries, running the Turbolinux 10 Desktop distribution of Linux. Turbolinux, formerly part of the UnitedLinux group, is popular in Asian countries. The PCs are selling in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, HP said.

HP is also selling two desktop models, the dx2000 and cd5000, which are available with Windows or Mandrake Linux. However, the company has been exceedingly tight-lipped in the past week, refusing to discuss any details of either Linux box so today's launch could go ahead as planned.

For its part, Novell is heavily pushing Linux as a "complete desktop", saying it plans to challenge Microsoft on its home turf. "We believe that in the next 12 months, we will see the widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop," Novell vice chairman Chris Stone told BrainShare attendees.

IBM can now preload Suse Linux Enterprise Server across its full range of servers, including eServer iSeries, pSeries, xSeries and zSeries, and its eServer BladeCenter systems, Novell said on Wednesday. Novell will continue its development and support of Suse Linux on IBM's servers, it said.

Previously, IBM was able to provide Suse Linux on a CD along with its servers, but was not allowed to preload the operating system, IBM spokesman Mike Darcy said.

IBM works with both Red Hat Inc.'s Linux and Novell's Suse Linux, said Scott Handy, IBM's vice president of Linux strategy and market development. If a customer decides to use Linux, IBM will provide them with the free operating system from Red Hat or Novell's Suse Linux, depending on what the customer wants.

"We are distribution agnostic, and we leave it to the customer to decide. They choose one or other for a variety of reasons," Handy said.

A customer using an IBM server running Suse Linux can license the software through IBM, a reseller or directly from Novell, Handy said.

Also on Wednesday, HP announced plans to begin certifying and supporting a desktop version of Novell's Suse Linux software, called Suse Linux Professional, by the second half of the year. HP already supports Suse Linux on its server products, and, in certain regions, sells desktop systems with Linux from a variety of Linux vendors, including MandrakeSoft SA and Turbolinux Inc. Under the terms of the new agreement, however, Suse Linux will become HP's standard worldwide Linux distribution across its line of business desktop and notebook PCs.

The arrangement will make the Linux desktop more appealing for enterprise customers, some of whom have begun asking about Linux on the desktop, said Martin Fink, HP's vice president for Linux during a press conference on Wednesday.

Fink declined to say whether HP's Linux desktop offerings would cost less than its Windows products, because pricing will ultimately depend on how exactly HP chooses to support the Suse Linux. "There are a variety of different ways we can deliver this," Fink said.

Service for the desktop could be provided by either Novell or by HP, for example, and the Linux desktop could even be available as one of HP's managed desktop services, Fink said.

Novell bought Suse Linux AG of Nuremburg, Germany, in November 2003 for US$210 million in cash.

At the same time as Novell announced its acquisition of Suse, it also announced that IBM Corp. planned to make a $50 million investment in Novell convertible preferred stock. The two companies have finally signed a definitive agreement on this, Novell said Wednesday. IBM will buy Novell Series B convertible preferred shares that are convertible into 8 million shares of Novell common stock for $6.25 each, Novell said. Due to the increase in Novell's common stock price since the agreement was made, a non-cash charge relating to this deal will reduce its earnings per share by $0.08 per share for the current quarter, Novell said.

Wednesday's decision should reassure IBM's customers that there will be strong, continued support across IBM's product range, it said.

(Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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