Lenovo to Load Linux on ThinkPad Laptop

The PC maker is set to announce a plan to offer its ThinkPad T60p with SUSE Linux pre-installed.

Lenovo Group is planning a full embrace for Linux.

The PC maker, at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo beginning Aug. 14 , will announce a plan to pre-load Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 on one of its ThinkPad notebooks, sources familiar with the two companys plans said.

Lenovo, whose ThinkPads have long been a favorite of Linux users, will become the first PC manufacturer in recent history to allow individual customers to buy one of its notebooks, a ThinkPad T60p mobile workstation model, with the operating system pre-installed, the sources said.

Lenovo has projected itself as a strong supporter of the operating system in the past—it has certified most of its ThinkPad and ThinkCentre PC models to run Novell/SUSE, Red Hat and TurboLinux distributions—but to date it has only pre-installed the operating system on a custom basis for large customers.

Lenovo officials declined to comment for this story. However, in June 2006 they indicated a desire to more fully invest in the operating system.

"Were about to reinforce that [Linux] strategy and go beyond what IBM [Personal Computer Division] or Lenovo, until now, was doing in terms of its commitments to the Linux community … and to our business partners who want to use Linux," said Marc Godin, vice president of marketing for notebook at Lenovo in Raleigh, N.C., during a June 2006 interview with eWEEK.

That pledge came following a claim by one Lenovo executive who said the company would drop support for Linux. However, Godin said during that interview that the executive misspoke.

Instead, 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 is working to increase its growth outside of China and particularly in areas such as emerging markets and the small and midsize business space.

But it must also guard its position with large customers in geographies such as North America and Europe.

Now third in PC market share behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard, it has become decidedly more aggressive of late with new products.

The company, for example, plans to introduce a new ThinkCentre desktop based on Advanced Micro Devices processors in the United States during the second week of August.

The machine, which is now being rolled out around the world, will target large businesses.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read more about Lenovos business plan, click here.

"Lenovo cant sit on its hands," said Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC in San Mateo, Calif. "Its got to be more aggressive in terms of innovation, particularly in the portable market—thats its bread and butter."

Shim, who has not been briefed on Lenovos Linux plan, said it could solve two sore spots for the PC maker.

"One is the lagging demand in the notebook commercial market, where theyre increasingly running into the Dells and HPs of the world as well as to a lesser extent Fujitsu. There, theyre able to provide another option," Shim said.

"The other sore spot is in the area of innovation and how they extend beyond the enterprise tools they offer through ThinkVantage."

Lenovo preloads ThinkVantage, a suite of tools for PC management, backup, recovery and like jobs, on its PCs.

It uses the software, which it says cuts management costs, to differentiate its PCs to customers.

However, new products ranging from Intels forthcoming vPro platform for business PCs—which offers to enhance the management of the PCs of any manufacturer that uses it—as well as competitors tools, things such as Dells DellConnect customer support software, can make it more difficult for ThinkVantage to rise above the noise the market, Shim said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read more about Lenovo, ThinkVantage and vPro, click here.

Lenovo extending Linux support could be one such means of setting itself apart.

Lenovo 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.

As of June, the company was also seeking third-party Linux certification for its

Although Lenovo might see pre-loading Linux as a positive for itself, the prospect has always been a tricky one, according to PC makers.

At one time, IBM offered a variety of different Linux distributions pre-installed on its PCs—some of them included Red Hat, Caldera, TurboLinux and SUSE—while Dell offered Red Hat Linux preinstalled on its desktops, notebooks and servers.

HP also experimented with offering desktop Linux with offerings such as its Compaq nx5000, which came with SUSE Linux 9.1 in what the company positioned as a test, in 2004.

But Dell and IBM largely discontinued their practices of pre-installing Linux on PCs for individual customers, switching instead to pre-installing the OS for large customers via their custom software image services.

Although, Dell and HP both offer PCs that come with FreeDOS, which essentially means theyre allowing customers to install their own operating systems.

Thus, for those who couldnt or wouldnt use the companies custom software image programs—which create and install a special software package on customers machines for an extra charge—the quickest path to Linux was generally installing the operating system themselves.

Lenovos ThinkPad T60p comes with an Intel Core Duo processor, a 14-inch or 15-inch display and ATI Technologies mobile graphics processors. It starts at about $1,800.

Editors Note: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols provided additional reporting for this story.

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