HP is to support Debian Linux. The company will become the first major hardware maker to align itself with the non-commercial community-based Linux offering.

The company said it would support Debian Linux on its ProLiant and HP BladeSystem servers, and what it said would be the industry's first Debian Linux customisable thin client from a major vendor - the new HP t5725 Thin Client server.

HP is supporting Debian because it has been shipping Debian Linux servers to customers in the fields of telecommunications and high-performance technical computing, said Jeffrey Wade, open source and Linux marketing manager at HP.

The company's involvement with the Debian dates back to 1995, he said.

Support will be provided direct from HP rather than through a third party service provider as part of the warranty coverage for its Debian Linux servers, better support than customers can expect from other OEMs said Wade.

If you look for Debian Linux support on the websites of other OEMs, "you might see a link to some discussion groups or a download of a research paper on Debian," he said. "But HP takes real phone calls from real customers who need to get their problems solved."

Some enterprises are turning to Debian to avoid the subscription fees required of major commercial Linux distributions such as Red Hat, Novell SuSE and others, Wade said.

Debian is a free operating system that was created by a group of about 1,000 global volunteers who collaborated via the Internet on its development. In July, the Debian Project announced that its next major update, Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, is scheduled for release in December.

Although Debian was not widely embraced at first, and users experienced interoperability problems with application software, Debian "has matured as Linux has matured," said Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at research firm Illuminata.

"This really is something new where there is a tier-one vendor essentially providing a tier-one level of support for Debian," said Haff.

Although specific market share numbers are hard to come by for noncommercial Linux distributions, "Debian has been quite popular [and] the leading noncommercial distribution," he said, although only in servers, not desktop computers.

HP's direct support for Debian may give HP a competitive advantage, Haff said, but there are third party service providers who can support Debian Linux servers from Dell, IBM or other PC makers.

IBM said it takes care of its Debian Linux customers. "IBM works well with Debian in the Linux community and will, and does, support the Debian distribution for our customers," the company said.

"It's not a standard offering, but we do it under special bid."

HP also announced Monday that unit sales of 1.5 million Linux servers generated revenue of close to $6.2 billion for the 12 months ending in May, 50 percent more revenue than its nearest competitor.