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Kleiner backing, new CEO boost Linuxcare

With a new chief executive as part of the investment deal from Kleiner Perkins, Linuxcare is making its leap into the thick of the corporate computing market.

With a new chief executive as part of the investment deal from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Linuxcare is making its leap into the thick of the corporate computing market.

Fernand Sarrat, 48, the former chief executive of Cylink and before that a general manager at IBM, took over the reins today at Linuxcare, a company dedicated to providing support plans for users of the increasingly popular Linux operating system. Arthur Tyde, Linuxcare's founder, will become executive vice president.

As previously reported, venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers invested in Linuxcare, a San Francisco-based provider of technical support for the increasingly popular Unix-like operating system. Kleiner Perkins general partner Ted Schlein now is a member of Linuxcare's board of directors.

Although chock-full of Linux technical expertise, Linuxcare needed more business acumen from someone with experience in growing start-up companies, Tyde said. "We're dealing with those typical hypergrowth issues," said Tyde, whose experience is largely in software development.

"I see the need in the Linux community for a third party that can sit aside from the various people distributing Linux," Schlein said in an interview. Corporate customers with international operations are going to need support for more than one Linux product, he said. "We don't care if you use Red Hat, SuSE, Pacific HiTech, or if you download the kernel--we'll support you," he said.

Schlein added that Linuxcare has access to "a lot of the brain trust of Linux," notably through Tyde's connections as founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Linux Users Group. "I think that's a core asset of the company," he said.

Linuxcare is the first Linux-related investment made by Kleiner Perkins, Schlein said.

"What they see in Linuxcare is a company that recognized a paradigm shift," he said. "There's the potential that the operating system could become an open standard. If Linux became ubiquitous, like IP [Internet protocol] networking, that's a pretty powerful notion."

Linuxcare made its first pitch to Kleiner Perkins in late February, Tyde said. About two months later, the deal was closed.

"You go into Kleiner with a certain amount of fear. They're basically the guys," Tyde said.

Linuxcare, a company that hopes to skim money off the corporate adoption of Linux, offers several different support plans, including round-the-clock response in North America. The company helps computer maker Dell and Linux seller SuSE support their Linux products.

Kleiner Perkins' investment is the first round of official venture capital funding for Linuxcare. Earlier, Linuxcare received money from individual "angel" investors, including SAP chief executive Hasso Plattner, Tyde said.

Sarrat's most recent job was at the helm of Cylink, a computer security and cryptography firm that deals with technology such as protective firewalls and sending secret information over public networks such as the Internet. Before that, he spent 23 years at IBM, where he rose to the position of general manager of marketing and services for IBM's network-centric computing group.

In the first few months after its founding, Linuxcare focused on getting its support infrastructure in place, for example, by making sure the telephone systems and incident-tracking software will be able to grow to meet demand. "We don't want to be caught with our shorts down," he said.

"From a Linux resource standpoint, nobody can touch us. We have the only true 7x24 Linux support operation," with an engineer who will answer the phone at any hour. "I challenge anyone to meet that," he said.

Kleiner Perkins has invested in high-tech notables such as Netscape, Amazon.com, and @Home Network.