The company's decision to focus on the most free and open form of the operating system should aid in ensuring that proprietary software doesn't dominate efforts to settle on a standard Linux base, said Martin Fink, HP's general manager of Linux systems operations.
"Debian is the best means to that end," he said. "Debian is the only distribution that is not under someone's commercial control."
Of all the collections of software packaged together with the core Linux system software, or kernel, only Debian requires any software included in its distribution to have a "free" license such as the GNU General Public License or the BSD license.
While many companies have avoided Debian because it limits their ability to claim intellectual property, HP believes having a single official version that customers can use without licensing is good, Bruce Perens, a well-known Debian developer and HP's Linux advocate, said in an e-mail.
HP's move to Debian became public after Perens sent an e-mail to the Debian development list outlining the reasons that the company decided to support the free operating system.
"HP has already started vending Debian to customers and will be offering Debian support and training," Perens said in the e-mail.
The move to Debian, he added, is only the first step toward supporting the common Linux platform being developed under the Linux Standards Base project. The first version of the LSB is due out in a month.
"Supporting LSB us now a priority to HP," Perens said.
In moving to Debian, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP has decided to continue to support Red Hat's Linux distribution, but not completely, HP's Fink added.
"We will support (Red Hat) on a number of our products," he said.
HP would like to support all Linux versions, he said, but that's not feasible. "To say that we are going to do all that work on every platform--that's unmanageable," he said.
As other versions start to comply with the Linux Standards Base, HP will add them to the list of supported platforms, he said.
While HP will customize parts of Debian to its needs, the move does not mean HP will be creating its own distribution, the term for a customized Linux release.
"Philosophically, what I do not want to do is create an HP Linux," Fink said. "The world doesn't need another version of Linux."