Open source software has made further inroads into Microsoft's heartland this week as both Lenovo and Dell announced Linux-based PCs.

Lenovo, which claims the world's number three PC maker slot, looks to be meeting arch-rival Dell head-on as they become the first two significant market players to announce Linux-based desktop machines.

Lenovo Thinkpads

Lenovo will start shipping Thinkpads pre-loaded with Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLES10) in the fourth quarter of this year. The two companies announced the deal this week, which includes the ThinkPad T Series that is aimed at business users, although the products will be available through both business and retail channels.

Lenovo will provide support for the operating system directly, the first time that it's done so, it said, with Novell offering maintenance updates for the system directly to users. Previously, Lenovo had certified Thinkpads for use with Linux, but had not made the OS available directly to its customers. It announced neither pricing nor a specific shipping date.

The announcement came on the first day of the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, which runs until Thursday.

"We have seen more customers utilising and requesting open source notebook solutions in education, government and the enterprise since our ThinkPad T60p Linux announcement, and today's announcement expands upon our efforts by offering customers more Linux options," said Lenovo spokesman Sam Dusi.

"Known for hardware and software based innovations like our roll cage and ThinkVantage Technologies, we continue our tradition of building the industry’s best engineered PCs and delivering excellent customer solutions, such as SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 from Novell."

Dell's Linux PCs

Dell has announced two consumer PCs in Europe – the Inspiron 6400n and the Inspiron 530n – with Ubuntu 7.04 factory installed.

Available now in the UK, Germany and France, the systems are Dell’s first Linux-based PCs that it'll sell outside the USA. The company said the announcement was a direct result of feedback received via its www.ideastorm.com site. About 30,000 IdeaStorm community members persuaded Dell to offer systems with Linux pre-installed, and more than 100,000 participated in a follow-up survey to help determine customer preferences, including which Linux system to offer initially.

Ubuntu is updated every six months, and is designed to be user-friendly. It includes office productivity software, including word processor, spreadsheets and presentation applications, as well as email, calendar, chat, web browsing and photo capabilities.

Hardware and basic software support, including installation, network connectivity and configuration is available through Dell support channels, along with additional software support on a variety of Linux forums and websites, said the vendor.

Prompted by customer feedback, Dell said it also created a Linux Forum, which enables users to offer mutual support.

Dell said it is offering hardware options on each system that have the most mature and stable Linux driver support, and that the hardware has been thoroughly tested and certified. The company added that it is "continuing to work with device vendors to improve the maturity and stability of their Linux drivers, and over time will continue to expand the range of hardware support for Linux."

The Ubuntu-based PCs will cost £329 including VAT and delivery for the Inspiron 6400n and £399, including VAT and delivery for the Inspiron 530n. Dell said these prices are below those that include the cost of Windows, although they have yet to appear on the company's website.

"Dell is continuing to deliver on its commitment to give customers what they’re asking for – the option of choosing Linux as their operating system," said Dell marketing manager Charlie Tebbs. "As we hear from customers throughout Europe and around the world, we will continue to explore the opportunities to expand our offerings globally, so stay tuned."

The main beneficiary of the moves by Dell and Lenovo are the open source community and users who get access to Linux-certified hardware while avoiding the Microsoft tax. There will be much head-scratching in Redmond tonight.