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Linux squeezes into embedded devices

Linux newcomers are becoming part of the mainstream effort to create software for non-PC "embedded" computing devices, as indicated by a host of trade show announcements.

Linux newcomers are becoming part of the mainstream effort to create software for non-PC "embedded" computing devices, as indicated by a host of trade show announcements.

Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system that competes with Windows, got its start in servers. A number of companies, such as TimeSys, Red Hat, Lineo, LynuxWorks and MontaVista Software have been working to squeeze it into smaller embedded devices such as network routers, handheld computers and set-top boxes.

The companies are taking on not only Wind River Systems, the dominant embedded software company, but also Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, which have their own efforts to crack the embedded market.

At the Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco this week, Lineo announced two Linux-based network devices for companies that want to sell the products under their own labels. One product is a network-attached storage system that lets customers easily plug a special-purpose file server into the network. The other is a firewall that routes network traffic between several computers, establishes secure "virtual private network" (VPN) connections and keeps out intruders.

Lineo, a Lindon, Utah, company that filed its initial public offering plans in 2000 and then withdrew them in January, announced it has established a sales, marketing and services office in Silicon Valley. The company last week released version 2.0 of its Embedix version of Linux and this week announced that Metrowerks is selling $14,495 programming tools for writing software that uses Embedix on some Motorola chips.

Meanwhile, Norway's Trolltech, which sells the basic ingredients for assembling graphical interfaces, advanced its push into gadgets. The company signed a deal with Lineo and competitor LynuxWorks under which the two embedded Linux companies will resell Trolltech's software components. As part of the deal, the Linux companies will make sure Trolltech's Qt/Embedded software works well with their versions of Linux.

Red Hat, which is CNET's Linux Center trying to convert its Linux prominence in the server market into power in the embedded realm, said it has signed a deal to bring programming tools to the Altera line of embedded processors based on the chip designs from MIPS and ARM.

Through its 1999 acquisition of Cygnus, Red Hat obtained expertise and programming tools related to the GNU compilers, software that translates instructions written by human programmers into language a chip can understand.

As part of the deal, Red Hat will maintain the software for Altera's chips, provide Altera with consulting services regarding use of the software with Altera's products, and offer services to Altera's customers.

Red Hat also signed a deal to expand its GNUPro programming tools to encompass Morpho Technologies' digital signal processor chips. Red Hat also will provide services to Morpho customers, the company said.

Though Red Hat's deals are for compiler software, not Linux itself, programming tools are a key element of creating embedded devices, and Red Hat argues that its compiler expertise will give the company an edge in attracting customers.