HP ships biz PCs with Mandrake Linux

Hewlett-Packard Co. last week released new business desktops running Mandrake Linux, making it the first of the world’s top PC providers to ship a pre-loaded Linux desktop.

Neither of HP’s big competitors — Dell Corp. and IBM Corp. — have similar offerings, although IBM is one of Linux’s biggest advocates.

“Over the last few months, a number of companies such as HP, who have been publicly lukewarm over desktop Linux have suddenly had their interest piqued considerably — particularly overseas,” said Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. “Sun [Microsystems Inc.] in particular has won some pretty deals overseas and a number of companies like HP and IBM, whose Linux desktop plans were on the backburner, have suddenly leapt to the front.”

Although IBM still isn’t shipping desktop computers pre-loaded with Linux, this week it announced plans to migrate 40,000 of its 300,000 employees to open source PCs.

“IBM doesn’t have anything like the size of the PC division that HP has,” Haff explained. “IBM’s PC division is smaller and more focused on relatively high-value enterprise sales. IBM is in a relatively weak position from a PC hardware perspective to really make a huge, near-term push on desktop Linux.”

While Dell hasn’t made a push into the Linux desktop market either, Haff said such a move wouldn’t be too difficult for Dell to accomplish.

“We’re not really talking about a huge engineering effort,” he said. “It’s really more of the case of making the decision to do it, putting support, test qualifications and sales in place.”

In 2003, Dell was the number one PC seller to commercial customers in Canada with 24.6 per cent, followed by IBM at 19.3 per cent and HP at 16.0 per cent, said Eddie Chan, research analyst, mobile and personal computing with IDC Canada Ltd., in Toronto. The commercial market comprises the home office, small- to medium-sized businesses, large enterprise and sales to governmental and educational bodies.

In the latter half of 2003, Chan said Canadian companies were replacing their old PCs but because budgets were still tight, the tendency was to refresh desktops with other desktops rather than portable PCs. Additionally, it is still overwhelmingly a Microsoft market and Linux still has hurdles to jump when it comes to ease of deployment and employee comfort level, he said.

HP, however, is touting its new line of PCs as a simplification of its PC strategy that will give customers a larger selection that meet a variety of business needs, from high-end to low-end.

The HP Compaq Business Desktop dx2000 includes an Intel Corp. Celeron or HyperThread-enabled Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processor with speeds up to 3GHz. Retailing at about US$389 with an up to 80GB hard drive, it has 1GB of double data rate (DDR) SDRAM and a choice of optical drives. Users can also choose between Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP or Mandrake Linux.

Also available with either Intel Celeron or a HyperThread-enabled Intel Pentium 4 processor up to 3GHz, the HP Compaq Business Desktop dc5000 is comes with an up to 160GB hard drive and up to four GB of DDR SDRAM. Like the dx2000, customers have a choice of optical drives and either Microsoft’s Windows XP or Mandrake Linux. It is available as a microtower or small form factor and will retail starting at US$599. It will also be shipped with HP’s Lifecycle Solutions tools to make them easy to maintain across networks.

“For a while Mandrake was the easy-to-use desktop distribution and was reasonably popular among hobbyists in the U.S. As the main distributions have improved and some of the historically painful distributions have got decent installers, Mandrake’s friendly desktop Linux distinctiveness has waned,” Haff said.

A couple of years ago Haff would have said that Mandrake was significantly easier for relatively non-technical people to use compared to other Linux distributions at the time, including Red Hat Inc. However that difference has eroded, he said.

HP’s Compaq 7000 series, which will debut in summer 2004, also comes bundled with HP’s Lifecycle Solutions tools and will be more advanced, secure and manageable, according to HP. Further details were not disclosed.

The company has also released these desktop PCs in Japan, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, which are available with Microsoft Windows XP or Turbolinux, which is a popular Linux distribution in Asia-Pacific.

Tim Prime, product marketing manager for commercial desktops and thin clients at Mississauga, Ont.-based HP Canada said, demand in Asia, where Linux adoption is proliferating, for these Linux destkops is through the roof. The company has received less reception in the U.S. and Canada, where adoption of the open source operating system has been slower, he added.

Canadian companies ordering a Linux-based PC from HP can expect shipping to vary from three days to two weeks, Prime said.

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