Lenovo will immediately begin selling and supporting a high-end model of its ThinkPad laptop with Novell's latest desktop version of SUSE Linux installed, the two companies announced Tuesday. The new laptop is aimed at electronics engineers and chip designers.
Lenovo, which acquired the ThinkPad line as part of its purchase of IBM's personal computing division last year, will offer the US$3,000 ThinkPad T60p with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10, which Novell released last month.
The two companies emphasized that the laptops are not targeted at consumers or even Linux diehards, who can buy the T60p but would still have to install SUSE or another Linux variant by themselves.
The move has been in the works for more than a year, the companies said, and was prompted by a request from a third partner, Intel, which wanted to supply high-end Linux laptops to its own engineers.
Linux is widely used in electronic design automation (EDA) and computer-aided design (CAD), especially in chip and circuit design. Software from Synopsys, Mentor Graphics and market leader Cadence Design Systems mostly run on the open-source operating system.
Intel served as the primary beta tester for the SUSE-equipped notebooks and is expected to eventually buy "thousands" of the laptops, according to Bill Iori, worldwide manager for ThinkPads at Lenovo.
PC makers have long been reluctant to preinstall Linux on their computers on a large scale because of concerns about offending Microsoft and uncertainty over which flavor of Linux to install or whether the market size justifies the cost.
Most vendors have only been willing to make moves similar to Hewlett-Packard, which in June said it would certify SLED 10 for six notebook models by the end of the year. Customers large and small would only be able to buy the laptops without Windows installed and still would have to install Linux themselves.
But with Lenovo, enterprise customers give their configuration preferences and other software requirements to Novell, which will build a custom version of SLED 10 for them and send it to Lenovo, which then installs it onto the laptops. Lenovo will also install other applications, including EDA or CAD applications, and ensure that they don't break any drivers or crash the operating system, Iori said.
With the electronic design industry still mostly concentrated in the U.S., the notebooks will be targeted mostly at American business users, he said.
Even so, Novell is also testing similarly configured notebooks with workers in other specialized industries where Linux is widely used, said Justin Steinman, director of product marketing for Linux and open-platform solutions. Those industries include automakers and financial services.
Individual users will only be able to buy T60p laptops with empty hard drives, though they will save US$100 by not needing Windows, Iori said.
"You won't be paying Microsoft a penny," Iori said. Those users can also buy support for SLED 10 from Novell for US$50 a year.
The 14- and 15-in. screen versions of the T60p start at US$3,099 and US$3,199, respectively.