HP Adds Some Open Source to the Desktop

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Now that Dell is offering a range of open source desktop systems, HP has become the most important supplier wedded to Windows Vista. Its resistance to offering GNU/Linux there is rather ironic, since it was one of the pioneers in the GNU/Linux world nearly ten years ago. In January 1999 a press release stated:

HP will now provide customers with Internet solutions and services based on Red Hat

and announced:

an alliance with Red Hat to support Official Red Hat Linux 5.2 on the Intel-based NetServer family.

A couple of months later, the Open Source Solutions Operation was launched, an internal group whose job was to knit the myriad open source activity within HP into a more coherent strategy that could be turned into products and services.

Against this background it is quite significant that HP has finally announced an open source desktop solution:

To provide customers with more cost-effective and secure computing options, HP, the leader in worldwide Linux server shipments and revenue, has introduced a new desktop offering with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop from Novell on the HP Compaq dc5850.

This joint solution delivers a tightly integrated suite of essential applications, including OpenOffice.org, web browser, multimedia tools, and email, collaboration and instant messaging software to drive productivity for business customers.

For education customers, HP is working with Novell to develop and maintain a repository of more than 40 applications, including math, art and word games, to improve student learning. In addition, applications for school administration and instruction will be available for teachers and administrators.

The cost of the machine is $519, and it seems only to be available in the US currently. It's very much a toe-dipping exercise, but it's a start. And in other respects, HP is taking quite an innovative approach to the use of free software on the desktop. For a while it has been offering what it calls the Firefox-HP Virtual Browser on its Compaq dc7900, and it's now extended it to a range of other PCs:

The first-of-its-kind Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solution was developed with Symantec and Mozilla for HP customers. The solution uses the standard release of Mozilla Firefox with a Symantec Software Virtualization Solution layer that allows customers to use the Internet productively while keeping business PCs stable and easier to support.

As customers surf the web, changes made to the PC are contained in a “virtual layer,” separate from the operating system, and do not permanently alter the machine. Customers can therefore reset the browser as needed, instantly returning the PC to its last-known good state.

Previously offered on the HP Compaq dc7900 Business Desktop PC, this virtual protection tool will soon be extended to work with HP Compaq dc7500, HP Compaq dc5800, HP Compaq dc5850, HP Compaq dx2400, HP Compaq dx2450 and HP Compaq dx2390 desktop Pcs.

These are Windows machines, which are obviously in dire need of such virtualised protection, but what's interesting is that HP chose to use Firefox here, not Internet Explorer. That augurs well for the future, since it suggests that ultimately HP is pragmatic about supporting free software, and chooses what it sees as the best solution for a given sector.

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