Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest PC maker, is to begin a large-scale push for Novell's SuSE flavour of Linux on desktops, the company has confirmed.

HP said it will work with Novell on Linux-powered PCs for businesses that want an alternative to Windows and only need access to certain specialised applications. The PCs could be well-suited for call centres and support centres, for example, where workers only need database and e-mail software, HP said.

The deal is part of Novell's Linux-orientated makeover, highlighted at the company's BrainShare conference this week in Salt Lake City, and follows on from previous HP experiments with Linux on the desktop. HP's announcement shows that the company considers Linux a serious rival to Windows on desktop PCs, at least for certain types of workstations.

Last week, HP launched a line of business-oriented PCs in 12 Asian countries, running the Turbolinux 10 Desktop distribution of Linux. Turbolinux, formerly part of the UnitedLinux group, is popular in Asian countries. The PCs are selling in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, HP said.

HP is also selling two desktop models, the dx2000 and cd5000, which are available with Windows or Mandrake Linux. However, the company has been exceedingly tight-lipped in the past week, refusing to discuss any details of either Linux box so today's launch could go ahead as planned.

For its part, Novell is heavily pushing Linux as a "complete desktop", saying it plans to challenge Microsoft on its home turf. "We believe that in the next 12 months, we will see the widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop," Novell vice chairman Chris Stone told BrainShare attendees.

SUSE Linux has already been adopted in some pioneering desktop installations, including several thousand desktops for the City of Munich, prior to Novell's January acquisition of the company for $210m (£113m). Novell also bought Ximian, a leading maker of Gnome-based desktop software for Linux and Unix, last August.

HP said it will give more details of its Linux desktop plans when the deal is officially announced this evening.