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Next major PC company to go Linux will be HP


People used to think the very idea that a major PC vendor would offer desktop Linux was beyond a joke. It was, as Vizzini from The Princess Bride would have said, “Inconceivable!”

But, as events turned out, to quote Inigo Montoya from the same movie, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

HP will soon be joining Dell in offering at least one Linux desktop line in its SKU sales listing. Here’s why I believe this.

First, Dell successfully broke the Windows-only wall when it added Ubuntu Linux 7.04 to three systems in its consumer line in May. While Dell hasn’t released any sales numbers, its Linux sales must be doing well. You don’t start offering Ubuntu on another brand-new laptop line and announce that you’ll soon be selling Ubuntu to SMBs (small to midsize businesses) and internationally unless you’re making money from it.

Offering Linux once could have just been a good PR move. Expanding the Linux offering means Dell must actually be selling units.

The other PC companies aren’t idiots. Many of them, like Lenovo, have been toying with desktop Linux for years. Hewlett-Packard has been offering desktop Linux for enterprise customers willing to make special orders via its HP Factory Express service service for anywhere from several hundred to several thousand systems for years.

These customized Linux desktops have been progressively selling better as the years go by. “We are involved in a number of massive deals for Linux desktops, and those are the kinds of things that are indicators of critical mass. So we are really looking at it very hard,” said Doug Small, HP’s worldwide director of open-source and Linux marketing. How big is massive? Try thousands of Linux desktops in a single deal.

HP also already sells any of its Personal Workstation PCs with HP Installer Kit for Linux. With this, users can easily install Red Hat Enterprise Linux. HP also offers SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) on its “xw” series Intel Xeon Pentium 4 and AMD Opteron workstations.

The PC giant has also been slowly moving into offering PCs with preinstalled Linux outside of the United States. For example, in early 2006, HP partnered with Mandriva to preload Linux in 37 countries in Latin America.

HP also already supports and certifies more Linux distributions than any other PC or server OEM. Currently, HP supports: Debian, Mandriva, Novell SUSE, Oracle Linux, Red Hat and Red Flag.

Back in March, Small told me that HP sees “the Linux desktop nearing critical mass,” but the buzz has “not been enough to get a preconfigured Linux desktop or laptop on the price list.”

That was before Dell made its move.

Since then the buzz from people within HP, and I’m not the only one hearing it, is that a regular retail Linux desktop is on its way, and there are other signs that HP is getting ready to take the Linux desktop plunge. For example, my old editor buddy Joe Panettieri reports from Ubuntu Live in Portland, Ore., that Chris Kenyon, Canonical’s director of business development, said the University of Delhi in India is partnering with HP to deploy Ubuntu on as many as 5,000 desktops.

As you might guess from that news, I’ve also been told by sources close to HP and Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, that you can expect to see a formal announcement that HP has added Ubuntu to its list of supported Linux distributions.

HP also just announced that it would be buying Neoware, a provider of thin-client systems. HP is doing this because it intends to accelerate the growth of HP’s thin-client business by boosting its Linux client software.

Sources within HP partners such as Novell and Ubuntu keep giving me hints that an HP desktop Linux will be on its way sooner than later.

How soon? If I knew that, I’d tell you. But, I think we’re going to see HP announce both business and consumer Linux lines at this August’s LinuxWorld trade show in San Francisco.

What I expect to hear at LinuxWorld is that HP will be offering two Linux desktop SKUs. One will feature Novell’s SLED 10 SP 1 for business users. The other will be for home owners and use Ubuntu 7.04.

If anyone from HP, Novell, Canonical or Ubuntu happens to read this—and I know you do!—drop me a note and let me know if I’m going to get egg on my face or if I’ve called it right.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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