Michael Dell, who has built his successful Dell Computer selling Windows PCs, is full of praise for the Linux operating system.

During his keynote speech to open the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo yesterday, Dell said the open source operating system is growing in popularity among businesses because it's a compelling, low-cost server alternative to costly UNIX platforms from rivals such as Sun Microsystems.

"The open-source collaborative development model, I believe, is built to succeed in the Internet age, and it makes more sense than the proprietary model of some of our competitors," he said.

In particular, Dell cited cost advantages of Linux over Sun's Solaris platform, as well as the speed with which developers can introduce new features to Linux.

He also praised the peer review process of open-source development, in which a loose-knit community of developers works together on Linux code to refine and improve it.

Dell is just the latest major hardware vendor to throw its weight behind Linux. Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM also offer Intel-based Linux servers. The fact that customers can choose Linux servers from a variety of vendors also makes it a compelling choice for businesses, he said.

"We believe that Dell and Linux together are a very powerful combination as large and small businesses build out their Internet infrastructure," he said.

The Dell chief kept his remarks geared mostly toward the server market, perhaps out of deference to his biggest partner, Microsoft, whose Windows operating system ships on the vast majority of Dell's desktop and notebook computers.

The use of Linux on desktops is restricted for the most part to computer enthusiasts, in large measure because the operating system is more complicated to install and operate than Windows.