Hewlett-Packard's decision last month to sell desktop Linux PCs in Australia is giving hope to Linux advocates at the Encompass HP user group that HP may replicate the decision elsewhere.

The new HP Compaq dx2250 system comes preloaded with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Desktop and can be equipped with several processors from AMD, including its Athlon dual-core chip. The system starts at $600 Australian (about $505 US) and is aimed at small and medium-size businesses.

Steve Illgen heads the Linux special interest group within Encompass, an independent user group in Chicago and has about 15,000 members. He thinks that small and mid-size businesses in the US also need a Linux desktop to give them a less expensive alternative to Windows Vista.

"We are urging [HP] to do this," Illgen said. "Vista requires a very expensive PC." Vista needs at least 1GB of memory, but 2GB is "really the minimum," according to Illgen, who is a senior systems administrator at a restaurant chain that he asked not to be identified.

Illgen said he is running Linux on a desktop PC with a Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of memory, and the system is "doing everything I need to do and then some."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, said PC vendors have introduced desktop Linux in certain regions, such as Europe and Asia, where the open-source operating system "has had some real traction".

"What's been interesting to me is that Dell's move to Linux as an option on the desktop was an idea inspired by the response that Dell got from its IdeaStorm website," King said. "If Dell users are that interested, I can't understand why HP users wouldn't be equally interested."

Earlier this year, Dell said it would make Linux available on some of its desktop and notebook PCs after getting online feedback in support of the idea from thousands of customers on the IdeaStorm site. The company later chose the Ubuntu Linux distribution, again based on user feedback.

Illgen said he thinks that desktop Linux has matured enough for business use and that broader adoption will happen eventually. "[But] if HP pushes this, it may be a whole lot quicker," he added. "We want to see if HP is going to be serious about this."

In addition to the Austalian announcement, Illgen said he has another clue about HP's potential Linux plans elsewhere. He noticed at the company's HP Technology Forum & Expo in June that HP - which currently sells workstations with a Linux operating system option - was offering more courses than usual on creating Linux desktops.

HP officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment on any desktop Linux plans.