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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Dell gives the go-ahead for Linux
Dell laptop, Getty
Dell currently only offers Windows software on its laptops
Computer giant Dell will start to sell PCs preinstalled with open source Linux operating systems, the firm has said.

The second largest computer maker in the world said it had chosen to offer Linux in response to customer demand.

Earlier this year, 100,000 people took part in a Dell survey. More than 70% of respondents said they would use Linux.

Dell has not released details of which versions of Linux it will use or which computers it will run on, but promised an update in the coming weeks.

"Dell has heard you," said a statement on the firm's website. "Our first step in this effort is offering Linux preinstalled on select desktop and notebook systems."

Currently the company only offers Microsoft Windows on its computers, but sells servers running Linux.

Members of the Linux community welcomed the move.

The fact that Dell is offering a desktop with Linux is no surprise
Nick Veitch

Nick Veitch, senior editor of Linux Format magazine, described it as "significant".

"I think it sends a message in two ways," he said.

"One is that a major company is confident enough to be able to offer Linux preinstalled on a desktop - that sends a signal that Linux is usable to the average user - and I think it shows that there is a growing demand for an alternative to Windows."

'No surprise'

Microsoft is the world's largest software maker and its proprietary Windows operating system is found on nine out of every 10 personal computers.

Windows XP Home, PA
Mr Mitchell had no plans to use Windows XP on his new laptop

While companies such as Microsoft earn money by licensing and charging for use of their products, Linux code is freely available.

That means anyone can modify it or develop applications for it. As a result, there are many different types, or distributions, of Linux operating systems that offer different functionality.

As Linux is free to download and distribute, the exact numbers of users is difficult to quantify.

However, analysts believe that approximately 6% of computers users run Linux, similar to the numbers choosing Apple Macs.

Big business and governments, particularly in the developing world, are also starting to exploit the flexibility of open source code.

The UK Cabinet Office recently evaluated the operating system and approved it as a viable alternative to proprietary systems. Car manufacturer Peugeot has also rolled it out across its employees' desktop computers.

But until now there has not been a major computer manufacturer willing to preinstall Linux on consumer computers.

"The fact that Dell is offering a desktop with Linux is no surprise," said Mr Veitch.

"The surprise is that it has taken them this long."

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