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HP offers Debian Linux support

Hewlett-Packard will offer support, but not marketing, for the noncommercial Linux version.

Debian is a steadfastly noncommercial version of Linux. But Hewlett-Packard will give it a big corporate hug Monday with the announcement of a plan to provide support for the open-source operating system.

"We've had a number of customers continuing to ask us to have broader support for Debian," and HP decided to oblige, said Jeffrey Wade, worldwide marketing manager at HP's Open Source and Linux Organization. Red Hat and Novell will remain HP's main Linux partners globally, however.

HP announced the news in conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing company will offer technical support for installation and configuration during a server's warranty period, Wade said. And later this year, it will begin selling "care packs" to help customers with Debian problems, he said.

The move reflects the continuing price pressure that exists in the Linux marketplace, where free versions of the open-source software always are an alternative to paid versions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server.

Sophisticated HP Linux customers requested the Debian support, after wondering if they could get "a better value with a distribution that doesn't require a subscription fee and subsequent renewals for that subscription," Wade said.

Debian won't be on the same level as Red Hat or Novell, though, Wade said. HP won't market it, and customers will have to download the software on their own. Software combinations with partners such as BEA Systems or Oracle won't be available with Debian. And HP won't formally certify Debian for its servers.

HP expects the Debian offer to appeal chiefly to sophisticated customers who usually have internal software support and a long history of Linux expertise. However, the company is pleased with its support; of the 48,000 Linux-related support calls HP got in 2005, the company answered 99.5 percent on its own, meaning that only 180 had to be transferred to experts at Red Hat or Novell, Wade said.

HP's offer will apply to the current "Sarge" version 3 of Debian and to version 4, "Etch," due in December. (Debian versions are named after characters in the movie "Toy Story.")

The company has a long history of cooperation with Debian. It formerly employed one Debian leader, Bruce Perens, and another former leader and current contributor, Bdale Garbee, is chief technologist of HP's Open Source and Linux Organization.