IBM has joined up with companies in Eastern Europe to offer Microsoft free computers.

Reuters reports that IBM said it was offering the PCs based on the open-source Linux operating system together with Red Hat software distributor VDEL of Austria and Polish distributor and services firm LX Polska.

The move is said to be in response to demand from Russian IT chiefs.

IBM added that the PCs will include IBM's Lotus Symphony software based on the Open Document Format, which is a rival format to Microsoft's Office Open XML document format.

IBM, which has sold its PC business to China's Lenovo, said the hardware would be made by partners of VDEL and LX Polska.

Russia is becoming a key market as businesses there are building large computer networks for the first time and therefore Microsoft and its rivals are keen to gain a foothold.

Microsoft has already signed a deal with MTS, Russia's largest mobile phone operator, to offer services and cut-price laptops installed with its Vista operating system for small businesses.

But IBM is claiming that its new Linux PC line-up, called Open Referent, could cut desktop computing costs for buyers by up to half.

Reuters adds that Russian organisations including the Ministry of Defence, airline Aeroflot and private bank Alfa Bank had been among those who had requested an open-source PC.