Two leading hardware vendors, Dell and Lenovo, are quietly selling laptops without preloaded Microsoft Windows to Linux customers who know where to look, says Lincoln Durey, CEO of EmperorLinux, an Atlanta reseller that customises, installs and supports Linux on the major-brand laptops it sells.

Durey says that "basically all of the Latitudes" are now available without an OS. EmperorLinux sells Dell's D420, D520, D620, D820, D620ATG, and M90 with Linux. Of those models, only the ruggedised D620ATG and the M90, which is part of the Precision series, require the customer to buy preloaded Microsoft Windows, he says.

Dell has been smoothing out the ordering process for the Windows-free laptops since introducing the option about around three weeks ago, Durey says. "There were some ordering hiccups. They would call back and say we can't do that, and you would say, you can do it," he says. EmperorLinux's two most popular Dell laptops are the D820, available without a Microsoft license, and the M90, which is not.

Customers aren't saving money by passing up the OS license, though. "The Dell price is identical. Windows or nothing, it is exactly the same to the penny," Durey says. "I've actually seen one-time discounts on the Windows side that are not reflected on the Linux side for a week, so you could end up getting the Windows ones cheaper," he adds.

Lenovo, however, passes on savings (about $40 in the US) to customers who order ThinkPads without the Microsoft license, Durey says. Currently EmperorLinux sells some T Series ThinkPad models without the Microsoft license, but Durey says he has not yet been able to order an X series ThinkPad except with the license.

"The nice thing about not having the OS license is that it will lower the total cost of the solution," says Randy Hickel, Lenovo's Americas' sector leader.

ThinkPads without a preinstalled OS are not available through Lenovo's Web site, Hickel says. Customers who want a ThinkPad without the OS license have to order from EmperorLinux or one of Lenovo's distributors. "We've got a number of distributors who have the ability to ship our laptops without an operating system ," Hickel says.

Lenovo began offering Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop on one ThinkPad model last fall, but the no-OS offering extends to more models, including the coveted X series, Hickel says. "We do have the ability to ship the X series without a preloaded OS. It's just a matter of us creating what we call a special configuration," Hickel says.

Durey says that tracking down and ordering the special configuration can be tricky, because Lenovo originally intended them for large companies that need electrical-engineering workstations to run CAD software. "You can't get this online, you really need to have this particular part number and go to somebody who's going to have them," he says. "We were introduced to them by Lenovo as part of our partner relationship."

But whether or not a customer can save money by not paying for an unused OS license, some just want to make a point. "We have a reasonable number of customers who are saying, yes, for the moral victory, let us get one," Durey says.