Lineo this week picked up United System Engineers, a 27-person engineering consulting firm based in Shiojiri, Japan. The 15-year-old firm will help Lineo explain to prospective customers why they might want to switch from existing operating systems to Lineo's version of Linux for set-top boxes, factory robots and other "embedded" devices, said Lyle Ball, vice president of marketing and communications.
Lineo doesn't sell Linux to corporate customers or to specialists such as Red Hat or other firms that push Linux for desktops and servers. Instead, it sells its software to manufacturers, which pick and chose the technology they need from Lineo and pay royalties accordingly. The company, formerly known as Caldera Thin Clients, has been profitable selling a version of DOS for this market and currently has more than 250 business partners.
One argument for using Linux in consumer appliances is the cost. Linux, even when purchased, is cheaper than existing, proprietary software. Another is that development of new features for the operating system can occur faster by virtue of the cooperative nature of the "open-source" community that collectively develops Linux.
An argument against Linux is that a company won't be able to offer proprietary improvements to the Linux core because the Linux license requires that such changes be published publicly. Companies still may add proprietary software that resides outside the core of Linux.
Competition exists among different versions of Linux for embedded devices--including Lineo's Embedix, Lynx's Blue Cat, Transmeta's Mobile Linux, Monta Vista's Hard Hat Linux and others. But the real competition will be with the traditional embedded operating system companies such as QNX, WindRiver or ISI, Ball said.
Other competitive threats to Lineo include post-IPO Linux companies such as Red Hat, which can use their stock prices to acquire embedded Linux companies, Ball said. TurboLinux, though not yet public, has acknowledged a small embedded Linux operation in China.
One area of flux for embedded Linux is selection of a Java software to enable companies to more easily use software on a variety of hardware types.