In a sign the Linux operating system may be gaining traction beyond servers and other back-room systems, Hewlett-Packard Co. said Tuesday it will be the first major PC maker to ship a business notebook computer pre-installed with the open-source software.
The H-P Compaq nx5000 will feature Novell Inc.'s SuSE Linux and support a CD burner, a DVD and media player, wireless connectivity and the OpenOffice software suite. It will start at an estimated street price of about $1,140 -- about $60 less than the basic model outfitted with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Professional operating system.
Though Linux is a viable alternative to Windows in servers and workstations, its adoption on desktop and notebook PCs has been slowed by a dearth of popular programs and software drivers that control peripherals.
In the nx5000, H-Phas brought together the drivers required for the notebook to manage power, control printers and other devices, said Martin Fink, HP's vice president for Linux.
"All of those parts of this notebook have been turned on, work completely and are fully supported," he said.
But H-P is not alone. Rival Sun Microsystems Inc. sells a Linux-based software called the Java Desktop System, and computer manufacturer Tadpole Computer Inc. offers notebooks with it.
Unlike Windows and other proprietary software, the programs that make up Linux are developed by a community of paid and unpaid developers. No single company controls the code, and anyone can improve upon it as long as changes are also shared with others.
Linux has a reputation for performance, reliability and low cost, though Microsoft and others have questioned whether it's in fact faster, cheaper and more secure in the long run than proprietary operating systems.
The H-P notebook is available in North America through H-P's online store and to international customers on request. Fink said the launch is a test "so that we can see the take up we get for this particular product."
The open-source movement got a separate boost Tuesday when IBM Corp. announced that it would contribute $85 million worth of programming code used in a database program. By releasing the code to the Apache Software Foundation, IBM hopes to kick-start the development of open-source applications that work with the database, known as Cloudscape.