Lenovo Group is getting behind the idea of Linux on the desktop.
The PC maker, at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo on Aug. 15, unveiled a plan to provide ThinkPad buyers with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, often called "SLED 10" for short.
Lenovo, whose ThinkPads have long been a favorite of Linux users, becomes the first PC manufacturer in recent history deliver computer models that offer full support for a version of the operating system, including taking measures such as writing software drivers for it.
Larger customers can work with Lenovo to have SLED 10 pre-installed at the factory, while smaller customers can order one of the machines and obtain a copy of the OS—either from Lenovo or directly from SUSE—and do the work of installing the OS themselves using Lenovos software and technical support.
"For the first time, well support Linux" versus simply certifying the OS will run on a ThinkPad, said Bill Iori, worldwide ThinkPad marketing segment manager for Lenovo in Raleigh, N.C.
"Someone who buys one of these two [ThinkPad T60p] SKUs will be able to call the Lenovo help center and get support for installing drivers—which Lenovo will provide—or ThinkVantage technologies."
Lenovo has projected itself as a strong supporter of Linux. It has certified most of its ThinkPad and ThinkCentre PC models to run SUSE, Red Hat and TurboLinux distributions.
But, until now, it had not done work such to create software drivers so that devices such as network modules functioned properly under the operating system. Nor had it offered to give customers who were installing the OS technical assistance.
Lenovo will do both for its T60p/SLED 10 customers. It will supply drivers for things like the ThinkPads graphics processors, Ethernet and wireless networking modules as well as deliver its ThinkVantage ThinkPad Configuration Utility, Power Manager and Access Connections applications.
ThinkVantage Technologies are Lenovo-designed PC management tools, which it offers along with its Think-brand machines.
Access Connections for SLED 10 will help users to manage their networking settings, while Power Manager will help control system power settings, including things like suspend/resume.
Lenovo technical support operating will handle issues related to the installation of the OS, drivers and ThinkVantage tools on the specialized T60p models.
"If someone were to need help, they have the ability to call the help center to get help installing those two things," Iori said.
Thus, "not only is an OEM [Lenovo, in this case] providing drivers for key features, theyre also supporting them."
Lenovo, which purchased IBMs Personal Computer Division in May 2005, appears to be tightening its relationship with Linux in part to help differentiate its products.
The company pledged in June 2006 to take measures such as beefing up its Linux technical support with direct assistance in the form of things like Web-based technical support to customers who run particular versions of Linux on ThinkPads and ThinkCentre desktops. It also said at the time it would seek Linux certification for its Lenovo 3000 PC line.
At the same time, it has been working to increase its growth, concentrating in areas outside of China, including emerging markets and the small and midsize business space.
But it must also guard its position with large business customers in geographies such as North America and Europe. The Linux strategy is aimed primarily large customers. It gives the computer maker another option to offer those customers who might purchase its mobile workstations.
For its part, Intel counts as an early ThinkPad T60p plus SLED 10 customer. The chip maker, which supplies SLED 10-ThinkPad T60p systems to some of its engineers, even helped in the development of the package, Iori said.
Still, not everything works under Linux. Features such as IBMs active protection system for ThinkPad hard drives, which protects the drive in case of a fall, and its fingerprint reader are not able to work under SLED 10 at the moment.
Meanwhile, Lenovo will only pre-install SLED 10 for larger customers, Iori said. But that doesnt mean smaller businesses and individuals dont have options.
Those customers can purchase the specialized version of the T60p along with SLED 10 and do the install themselves.
"Its very a highly customizable environment," Iori said. "The individual and the hobbyist, if you will, and the Linux enthusiasts that purchase this system will most likely want to configure and install [SLED 10] just the way they want to do it."
However, Lenovo will not rule out pre-installing the OS for individuals at some point. It intends to gather feedback from customers at LinuxWorld this week.
"Well gather some more requests and down the road if it turns out its the right thing to do…its something well certainly look at," Iori said. "Were sort of testing the waters now. Want to walk before we run."
Meanwhile, the Lenovo Linux drivers and ThinkVantage Technologies created for the ThinkPad T60p will work on most any recent ThinkPad with SLED 10 installed, he said.
Lenovo wont offer technical support to those users who try it out, however.
Lenovos special T60p models began selling on Aug. 15. They start at $3,099 for a model with a 14-inch screen and $3,199 for one with a 15-inch screen, but also come with high-end features such as Intels Core Duo T27000 processor and ATI Technologies FireGL graphics processors.
Editors Note: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols provided additional reporting for this story.