HP is selling cheap, Linux-based notebooks in Thailand, in a move that underscores the open source platform's growing popularity in emerging markets.

The notebooks are being sold as part of a push by Thailand's Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) ministry to offer the public affordable PCs.

The PCs, which come with a preloaded Linux operating system (OS), went on sale last week for the equivalent of £275, a representative for HP in Singapore confirmed.

But the notebooks had to be designed to fit criteria set by the ICT, which could explain the choice of the Linux OS. Although the use of Linux would definitely bring down the price of the computers, it could bring about support issues. However, the ministry has agreed to take on service and support issues related to the PCs.

The arrangement appears to be successful. The Bangkok Post reported on its website this week that demand for the PCs has been high. It even reported that the ICT is negotiating with other local and international vendors to produce more PCs because it fears that HP will not be able to keep up with the demand. Dell, Thailand and the Association of Thai Computer Manufacturers have expressed interest, the Post reported.

IDC analyst Bryan Ma said that the PCs could pose a threat to Microsoft for two reasons. HP's decision to preload Linux, which can be distributed for free, allows customers to avoid the cost of a licence for the Windows operating system. Additionally, with the rampant piracy in Thailand, users could easily purchase the low-cost PCs and install pirated Windows software on them.

"This could make Microsoft tremble in its boots," Ma said. "What you've got is a blank canvas in which the user can paint any colour he wishes whether that's officially licensed Microsoft software or pirated software."