Dell has quietly stopped offering the Linux operating system as an option on its desktop and laptop PCs, saying low demand forced it to pull the software from its online stores.

Dell has championed the open-source operating system through investments in companies such as Red Hat and Linux desktop software maker Eazel, which has since gone out of business.

Founder and chief executive Michael Dell gave a speech at the LinuxWorld conference last year in San Jose, California, where he remarked that "the only thing growing faster than Linux is Linux on Dell". Since then the tide has turned.

While the company has seen strong sales of Linux on workstations and servers, it has sold few desktops and laptops this year loaded with the operating system, Dell spokeswoman Sarah Lavender said. The Texas-based firm dropped Linux from its PCs and laptops about six weeks ago but did not announce the move publicly, she said.

Linux is still offered as an option to users who try to buy, for example, a Dell Dimension desktop at the company's website. A link appears saying: "Buy a system with Red Hat Linux", but those who click on the link are taken to a page that displays an error message. The link has not worked since at least 22 June. In addition, people who enquire about the operating system at Dell's sales support line are told Linux is no longer an option.

"We don't do Linux," said a Dell sales representative contacted yesterday. "That area of the website was collecting dust, so we stopped offering it a while ago."

Customers who want to buy 50 or more PCs can have them installed with Linux if they go through a custom ordering process that is separate from Dell's online store and catalogues, Lavender said.

Dell had hoped that more of its server customers buying Linux would also purchase desktops running the operating system. But this was not to be.

"We anticipated a little more spillover in demand from the people buying servers," Lavender said. "Our customers did not seem to want it though; the numbers didn't add up."

Linux advocates have long hoped their operating system of choice would gain ground on the desktop against Microsoft's Windows. This vision, however, is beginning to fade with Eazel going out of business earlier this year. With one of the world's largest PC sellers and biggest Linux champions scaling back support for the operating system, hopes look paler still.