Hewlett-Packard is set to offer Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop bundle on one of its desktop PCs.
The HP Compaq dc5850, which is aimed at schools and small-to-medium-sized businesses, will be available in the US from mid-December. Besides SuSE, it will come with the OpenOffice.org office suite and other applications. Users can also download more than 40 free education-related software applications for teachers and students, along with school administration applications.
"Over the last several months, our engagement with customers in the education segment really pushed us to make this offer available," said Lance Stevens, software product marketing manager at HP. "It was the customer interest, not really any lack of uptake in Vista or the [success] of Linux Netbooks."
HP joins Dell and Lenovo among the larger vendors that have slowly expanded or re-expanded into Linux desktops in the past several months.
HP, which claims to be the largest reseller of Linux servers, has a longer relationship with Linux on the desktop than other vendors, though that has blown hot and cold.
As far back as 2000, HP was offering Linux on workstation-class desktop PCs. It then made a major push for SLED desktops in 2004, and, a few months later, SLED laptops.
However, that campaign died quietly. For the past several years, HP hasn't shipped desktop PCs with Linux on them, though it has allowed customers to opt out of Windows and get an open-source DOS called FreeDOS instead, upon which they could easily install the Linux of their choice.
"Apart from a very small volume of SLED desktops we started to ship in Asia last year, we haven't pre-installed SLED in quite some time," Stevens said.
Stevens said the new Linux desktops would be a little more expensive than near-blank, FreeDOS ones, but would cost "significantly less than a Windows Vista system.
"There is certainly a value proposition for customers," he said.
HP is also selling Linux netbooks, such as its upcoming HP Mini 1000 Mobile Internet Experience edition.
And Stevens said that colleagues in the mainstream notebook team at HP were "actively evaluating" whether to install Linux on laptops.
HP also said it will install a safe web browsing tool that works with the open-source Firefox browser on a wide variety of its business desktops.
In terms of Web security, HP is using application virtualisation technology from Symantec to put copies of Mozilla Firefox in a separate virtual layer. That lets users browse the web without fear that malware they might inadvertently download from the Internet will make permanent changes to the PC as a whole, according to HP.