Dell Inc. will start offering the Linux operating system pre-installed on its PCs and notebooks in response to customer demand, the company said Wednesday.

In an announcement on Dell's IdeaStorm website, the company said it would provide more detail on which hardware systems will be available with Linux in the coming weeks.

Linux is the free operating system developed by volunteer programmers around the world and is seen as a low-cost alternative to market-leader Microsoft's Windows operating system.

A number of different versions of Linux are available, including Canonical Ltd.'s Ubuntu, Novell's OpenSUSE and Red Hat's Fedora.

Dell said it hasn't decided which distributionsit willoffer, but said customers are more concerned about driver compatibility and support than they are about which distribution Dell would choose for its PCs and notebooks.

Dell had previously offered Linux support on its servers and with its Precision workstation line, but said it is making the move to offer it on PCs and notebooks in response to a poll of customers earlier this month.

The companypointed out that more than 70 per cent of over 100,000 respondents said they would use a Dell system with a Linux operating system for both home and office use, according to a survey conducted earlier this month.

The move could open a new market for the computer maker, which has struggled in the past year with poor sales.

Company founder Michael Dell returned to the company as CEO earlier this year after the company announced its fourth-quarter profits had plunged to $673 million US, compared to $1.01 billion a year earlier.