HP Thailand launches Linux laptop for US$450

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has begun selling inexpensive, Linux-based notebooks in Thailand, in a move that underscores the open source platform’s growing popularity in emerging markets.

The notebooks are being sold as part of a push by Thailand’s Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) ministry to offer the public affordable PCs.

The PCs come with a preloaded Linux operating system (OS) and went on sale last week for US$450, a representative for HP in Singapore confirmed Friday.

The notebooks were made to fit certain feature and price requirements set by the ministry, the representative said, which could help explain HP’s choice to install a Linux OS.

Although the use of Linux would definitely bring down the price of the computers, it could bring about support issues. However, the ministry has agreed to take on service and support issues related to the PCs.

The arrangement appears to be successful. The Bangkok Post reported on its Web site this week that demand for the PCs has been high. The Thai daily even reported that the ICT is negotiating with other local and international vendors to produce more PCs because it fears that HP will not be able to keep up with the demand. Dell Computer Corp. Thailand and the Association of Thai Computer Manufacturers have expressed interest, the Post reported.

Bryan Ma, senior research manager with IDC for the Asia-Pacific region, said that the PCs could pose a threat to Microsoft Corp. for two reasons. HP’s decision to preload Linux, which can be distributed for free, allows customers to avoid the cost of a license for Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Additionally, with the rampant amount of piracy in Thailand users could easily purchase the low-cost PCs and install pirated Windows software on them.

“This could make Microsoft tremble in its boots,” Ma said. “What you’ve got is a blank canvas in which the user can paint any colour he wishes whether that’s officially licensed Microsoft software or pirated software.”

However, Ma said that although the PCs seem to be a good fit for Thailand, where the demand for low-cost computing is high and there is great Internet awareness, that doesn’t mean that other emerging markets in the region will necessarily jump on the Linux bandwagon. The Thai government’s endorsement of the project is a big driver, he said.