A line of Dell Inc. (DELL) desktop computers running a version of the Linux operating system will be sold in Europe by a reseller, broadening alternative offerings to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) ubiquitous Windows software.

The computers being sold online by Questar of Milan, Italy, will ship with Lindows Inc.'s Linspire (search) operating system — in English- or Italian-language versions — and will receive Dell technical support, Questar said Tuesday.

Starting at about $575, the systems will be targeted at businesses, schools and consumers.

"This is a winning combination for the European community — Dell's highly recognized brand and service package coupled with Questar's Linux sales expertise," Michael Robertson, chief executive of San Diego-based Lindows, said Tuesday.

The Dell OptiPlex systems loaded with Linspire are available only through Questar. Dell was not offering any Linspire-based systems on its Web site. Though it halted Linux (search) computer sales to businesses in 2001 because of low demand, Dell now sells workstations running Red Hat Inc.'s (RHAT) version of Linux.

On Tuesday, Dell spokesman Jeremy Bolen said Questar purchases the computers from the PC giant and then resells them to its customers. He said Questar is a direct customer of Dell and not a partner.

"That's the extent of their relationship with us," he said.

Linux, which is freely distributed, has been a popular operating system for servers but has only recently made some inroads on the desktop PC. Red Hat Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. (SUNW), Novell Inc. (NOVL) and others are now offering user-friendly distributions.

Dell's biggest rival, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), announced this spring that it was broadening its desktop Linux offerings for corporate customers. On Tuesday, the company said it ships about 100,000 Linux desktops per quarter, with roughly half going to Asia.

The basic Questar system ships with an Intel (INTC) Celeron processor, 256 megabytes of memory and a 40- gigabyte hard drive. The package also includes the free OpenOffice (search) productivity suite — which includes a word processor and spreadsheet application — and a year of access to a Lindows site that simplifies the installation of other free software.

No similar configurations are shown at Dell's U.S. Web site, though a low-end OptiPlex PC running a Pentium 4 with Windows starts at about $400.