updated 3/16/2004 4:41:33 PM ET 2004-03-16T21:41:33

With an Asia rollout announced Tuesday, Hewlett-Packard Co. becomes the first major PC maker to offer desktop computer lines running the open-source Linux operating system.

The move by H-P, the world's largest PC maker, with about 17 percent market share, could be a threat to Microsoft Corp., maker of the market-dominating Windows operating system.

Linux is posed to become an especially strong competitor to Windows in Asia.

Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials have expressed concerns about becoming too dependent on Windows — especially in the government sector — and are exploring alternatives. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

H-P said its Linux PCs would be targeted at "emerging markets, where Windows PCs are not used so widely."

Linux is an open-source operating system, meaning its source code is freely distributed, though various companies sell Linux-based distributions tailored to specific tasks and markets.

The H-P computers will use a Linux distribution from Turbolinux and will include the OpenOffice.org 1.1 suite of office productivity software. OpenOffice is designed to be compatible with Microsoft Office.

Turbolinux said its Linux system will be offered on H-P computers in 12 Asian locations: China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

More PC makers may follow
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper, a major business daily, reported Tuesday that sales of the H-P Linux PCs will begin in June and shipments could reach 1 million units in the first year.

H-P's move may prompt other PC makers to follow suit, since prices of Linux PCs are expected to be lower than those of Windows PCs.

Other computer companies, including Dell Inc., do offer some Linux PCs, but most, including IBM Corp., have far more aggressively pushed Linux-based computer servers for businesses.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has other problems in Asia, including an investigation by Japan's fair trade watchdog on suspicion of monopoly law violations.

Agents from the trade commission raided Microsoft's Japanese offices Feb. 26, looking for evidence that the company attached improperly restrictive conditions on its software deals with computer makers.

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