Dell is looking to push Linux into the corporate desktop environment using virtualisation to allow alternative Linux operating systems to run more easily alongside Windows.

Dell’s chief technology officer, Kevin Kettler, detailed Dell’s still-in-development Linux desktop strategy during a keynote address earlier this week at the LinuxWorld Conference.

Kettler demonstrated to his audience how Windows and Linux could run on the same desktop using an open source hypervisor. He switched from running Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, Windows Vista and XP and a Mozilla Firefox Web browser on a Dell XPS notebook computer.

“I envision in the future clients having eight or nine operating systems on them that are all virtualised,” he said. “I think the Linux community is poised to be innovative and to create these virtual machine environments more than anyone else can today.”

Dell’s virtualisation news comes alongside news of its plans to ship Dell desktop and notebook computers with the open source Ubuntu Linux operating system in Europe. Other Dell models have been available with Ubuntu in the US since May.

Embracing Linux on the desktop is a reflection of the maturing of Linux as an alternative to Windows, said Charles King, of Pund-IT, a technology research firm.

Dell’s relationship with the open source community has been “complex,” King wrote in a report. Although Dell has long supported Linux on servers, its lack of a Linux desktop strategy has been taken by open source enthusiasts as “an affront.”

“The absence of Linux-based Dell desktop systems simply reflected a general absence of enthusiasm for such products in the broader marketplace,” King wrote. What has changed now is that Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu’s, have become more mature and user friendly, making them a more viable alternative to Windows.

Kettler acknowledged as much, saying Dell seeks to overcome enterprise customer reluctance to bring Linux and virtualisation to the desktop level.

“It really boils down to why are CIOs apprehensive about deploying Linux in the mission-critical desktops environment? I think virtualisation can help to [ease] those CIOs' apprehension,” Kettler said.