IBM Pushing Microsoft-free PCs For E.Europe

HANOVER, Germany — IBM has teamed up with partners in Austria and Poland to offer Microsoft-free (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) personal computers for the eastern European market, IBM said in a statement on Tuesday.

IBM (NYSE:IBM) said it was offering the PCs based on the open-source Linux operating system together with Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) software distributor VDEL of Austria and Polish distributor and services firm LX Polska in response to demand from Russian IT chiefs.

The PCs will include IBM’s Lotus Symphony software based on the Open Document Format, a rival format to Microsoft’s Office Open XML document format, which Microsoft is trying to get adopted as an approved standard by ISO .

IBM, which sold its PC business to China’s Lenovo in 2004, said the hardware would be made by partners of VDEL and LX Polska.

Russia, where many large corporations and public-service bodies are building large computer systems for the first time, is emerging as a key battleground between Microsoft and rivals offering open-source alternatives.

Microsoft is active in IT education campaigns in Russia and last month signed a deal with MTS (NYSE:), Russia’s largest mobile phone operator, to offer services and cut-price laptops installed with its Vista operating system for small businesses.

IBM said the Linux PC line it would offer with VDEL and LX Polska, called Open Referent, would cut desktop computing costs for buyers by up to half.

It said chief information officers from Russian organizations including the Ministry of Defence, airline Aeroflot and private bank Alfa Bank had been among those who had requested an open-source PC.

An IBM spokesman declined to give any sales forecasts on behalf of its partners.

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