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Dell preinstalling Linux on workstations

The computer maker is offering Red Hat Linux as a preinstalled option on its workstations, the latest example of the growing popularity of the little OS that could.

Dell Computer began offering Red Hat Linux as a preinstalled option on its workstations today, the latest example of the growing popularity of the little OS that could.

Dell began offering Red Hat this morning as an option on its Precision 410 and 610 workstations through its Web site. The company charges an extra $20 to install Linux , but overall the Linux systems cost around $70 to $100 more than similarly configured Windows NT machines. These systems also come with 90 days of phone or email technical support from LinuxCare.

The new systems also mark the first time in years that Dell is selling a non-Microsoft desktop.

The upstart operating system is taking the computing world by storm as big computer companies continue to beef up their support for the "open source" effort.

Although Dell announced that it would begin to sell Red Hat's OS on its workstations and servers earlier this year, the way that Dell is promoting Red Hat on its site seems to go beyond the earlier commitments. In January, Dell said that it would devise optimized configurations of workstations and servers for Red Hat Linux and sell customers copies of the OS on request. In other words, Linux was not preinstalled without a customer request.

Dell had been selling Red Hat Linux for months, after all, but the option was only available through its Dell Plus service, which took a few mouse clicks to find, not to mention an extra charge of $249. Users could not get Linux, in other words, on the same page where they were buying or configuring their system.

In January it was unclear how much effort Dell would exert in promoting the option. Under the program released today, Dell seems to be giving fairly strong support to Linux. Dell is offering to preinstall the operating system and is advertising Linux-configured systems on workstation home pages.

"You can order it as a factory installed option," said a Dell spokesman. "You select the OS before you configure." Buyers are also not required to buy a Windows operating system with Linux-configured machines. Until now, Dell Precision workstations have come with mandatory copies of Windows NT, 98 or 95. A "no operating system" option was not part of the standard configuration menu.

The vast majority of Dell's PCs and workstations have shipped with Microsoft operating systems. The company, however, did offer a Unix variant years ago.

The Linux option, however, is limited. The operating system will only be pre-installed on the workstation configurations certified to run Linux. As a result, users cannot select from the same range of options in graphics subsystems that they would if buying a Windows workstation.

Dell, of course, is not the only Microsoft ally jumping on the Linux bandwagon. IBM is considering it, and HP just announced Linux "optimization" for its lower-end Kayak machines.

HP and Compaq offer workstations qualifed for Linux, but leave it up to resellers to install the operating system.