HP is planning to introduce desktop and laptop computers that come with Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop operating system preinstalled.

Systems are scheduled to start shipping worldwide in select geographies in the second quarter of this year, according to a source familiar with the matter. The two vendors will jointly develop software drivers and provide support to end-users.

HP didn't respond to several requests for comment.

In an interview at the Novell Brainshare conference in Salt Lake City, Roger Levy, vice president for open platform solutions with Novell, typified the HP deal as significant. "Having any additional distributor that has worldwide reach and has a large market share who will bring enterprise grade Linux in as an option, is very significant to us," Levy said.

Levy declined to provide further details on the deal that will make HP the latest vendor to start shipping pre-installed Linux systems. Dell currently sells Ubuntu computers to consumers worldwide and offers Suse in Asia. Lenovo has been shipping computers running Suse Linux worldwide. HP's Linux offerings so far have been limited to the workstation segment.

Novell primarily markets its desktop Linux software to businesses. Its Linux bundles come with an annual support contract that is uncommon in the consumer market. The company for now has no interest in offering Suse preinstalled consumer desktops, said Levy.
"We do look at the consumer side from the nature of increasing our [developer] community," said Levy. "But from a business point of view, our focus is on the enterprise."

Linux is becoming an increasingly viable alternative to Windows on the desktop, Levy argued. The operating system has all the features required by enterprises, including support for common business applications such as Active Directory and Exchange. Productivity software such as Open Office too has reached a maturity level that satisfies enterprise demands.

Lastly, Novell is banking on concerns about Windows Vista, said Levy. The operating system has high demands on hardware and is suffering from poor driver support. "Vista has left more questions in people's mind than past generations [of Windows] in terms of the value proposition."