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Caldera, Red Hat spread the scope of Linux

Two of the biggest sellers of the operating system in North America move forward with plans to offer a Linux version for every occasion.

Two of the biggest Linux sellers in North America have moved forward with plans to offer a Linux version for every occasion.

Caldera Systems has released eServer, a new version of its Linux product tailored specifically for use in servers. At the same time, Caldera's biggest Linux rival, Red Hat, has formally launched its effort to push Linux into sub-PC gadgets by releasing programming tools acquired through its buyout of Cygnus Solutions.

Caldera Systems, an Orem, Utah-based software company, this month received $30 million in investments and filed plans to hold an initial public offering. The company has a Goldilocks-and-the-three-bears approach to Linux, creating different versions for servers and desktops. And its sister company, Lineo, will cover the sub-PC devices with its Embedix version of Linux.

Linux is a clone of Unix that competes with its progenitor as well as with Windows. Linux announcements are pouring out of the computer industry, triggered by this week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York.

Though the Linux stronghold is in servers, the powerful machines that power the networked computing world, Linux is spreading to smaller devices as well with support by Transmeta and others who are making it work better for devices with less powerful hardware than PCs or servers.

MontaVista Software of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced a version of Linux designed for extremely small devices with no keyboard or monitor and as little as 500 kilobytes of memory--less than a 60th of what a typical inexpensive PC today ships with. MontaVista's HardHat Linux will be sold under an annual subscription instead of through a per-unit royalty, the company said.

The use of Linux in devices as radically different as servers and TV set-tops raises the concern by some, however, that the core part of Linux, called the kernel, will diverge into different versions for different classes of hardware. Currently, there is a single kernel, maintained by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of several trusted deputies.

But because the Linux source code--its original programming instructions--may be viewed by anyone, it's relatively easy to create a customized kernel using just the components needed. For example, a person can build a kernel for a server that can use multiple CPUs or one for a set-top box that can run without a hard disk.

For example, Caldera Systems' eServer is tuned to work with a CPU at least as advanced as a Pentium II, is configured to be able to have large numbers of files open and doesn't come with support for PCMCIA, a method for plugging hardware into laptops.

Caldera Systems in particular is aiming eServer for the special-purpose "server appliances," which are tuned for a specific job. The company's goal is to have 30 to 40 percent of all such computers running Caldera Systems software by 2003, vice president of marketing Benoy Tamang said. The eServer product will cost $199, about four times the price of the basic eDesktop version the company sells.

Meanwhile, the Macmillan publishing company has released a new version of Linux for first-time users. Macmillan Software's Linux is based on the French Mandrake version, which in turn is based on Red Hat's but includes enhancements to make installation easier. Such software-sharing deals are legal under the terms of the Gnu General Public License under which the core Linux software is released.

Sun, an investor in Caldera Systems, also will announce that Caldera Systems' software will come with Sun's new Java 2 Standard Edition software, complete with the newer HotSpot software that enables Java programs to run faster, sources said. Sun's Java software lets software written in the Java programming language run on any computer with the proper software.

Red Hat's Linux comes with Java software from IBM. Big Blue has licensed Java from Sun but has added its own enhancements, including IBM's programming tools and an IBM competitor to Sun's HotSpot. IBM is an investor in Red Hat.

With Red Hat's acquisition of Cygnus, programming tools are now at the core of Red Hat's work. Cygnus' specialty is the compiler--the key software that translates programs written by people into instructions a computer can understand. Cygnus has been the brains behind much of the compiler work for Linux, and now Red Hat has released programming tools for developers for using Linux in small devices.

The Red Hat Tools for Embedded Developers software will make it easier to develop softwre on one Linux system that ultimately will run on a small "embedded" systems using either PowerPC or IIntel-compatible chips.

Michael Tiemann, a Cygnus founder and now Red Hat's chief technology officer, believes that it's important to have an operating system with a recognized brand name even in small devices. "Sony proved the power of brand in the consumer device space," Tiemann said.

Cygnus and Red Hat are big fans of using Linux in small devices, but Cygnus already embarked on an operating system of its own for tiny devices: eCos, which like Linux is an open-source project.