"Open computing is coming of age, and every desktop user should know that there's a full-featured Windows alternative out there," said the chairman and CTO of Xandros, as he announced a free version of the company's Linux OS.

"We want the Open Circulation version of the Xandros desktop to replicate like a virus," said Dr Frederick H. Berenstein, before explaining the new Xandros edition was downloadable at no charge from its website. Individuals can install the software for their personal use and pass it on to their friends through download mirror sites or by copying the installation CD.

The aim, of course, was to plant the seed that the Xandros Desktop OS provides a Windows replacement. In reality, very few people will want to install their own operating system even if it is free, especially since Microsoft's OS comes pre-installed on most new computers. The free version is also a way of attracting people to the company's product from where users will be enticed to signing up to one of the companies charged services. The free version is purely for non-commercial use and no support is offered.

"Many desktop users who toy with the idea of ditching Microsoft are not aware that switching to Linux means getting the best of both worlds," said Ming Poon, Xandros VP for software development. "They have a more stable OS, free of all the Windows viruses out there, and can still access all their Windows files and office documents. They also find out that the Xandros File Manager has an integrated CD Writer that is even simpler to use and yet more powerful than the one that comes with XP."

According to Xandros, the Open Circulation Edition "provides a secure, stable Windows replacement with all the features the great majority of users need, including an office suite, Web browsing, e-mail, and multimedia facilities." Ming Poon stressed that Xandros is just a four-click install with automatic disk partitioning.

The company also took the opportunity to announce the availability of premium memberships to the Xandros Networks single-click update service and community store.

Registered users of the Xandros Desktop Operating System automatically obtain a free Basic Membership, the company explains, to receive free fixes and patches for their version of Xandros Desktop OS, but the new Premium Membership will offer "instant access to the latest desktop Linux features and enhancements and guaranteed top discounts on version upgrades and third-party products and services."

"What you're seeing is another element of our business model," says chairman Berenstein, who adds: "Just as our Open Circulation Edition is vastly expanding our user base, Premium Memberships to Xandros Networks will strengthen our core community and provide a more continuous revenue stream."

"People like to talk about kernel numbers and version upgrades," added Ming Poon, "but our desktop OS is improving all the time. Premium Members can now experience many new desktop features and application updates the minute they pass Xandros Quality Assurance. We also set up a special forum where Premium Members discuss future directions and in some cases vote on which features we should work on next."