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Caldera updates OpenLinux amid Red Hat surge

The two leading sellers of the Linux operating system seem to be living in parallel universes.

Caldera Systems and Red Hat, two leading sellers of the Linux operating system, seem to be living in parallel universes.

Caldera Systems today announced an updated version of its OpenLinux software, even as rival Red Hat began work on its next version. On the business side of things, Caldera Systems seems to be only a few steps behind Red Hat, the first publicly traded Linux company, and may make an initial public offering later this year.

Caldera's OpenLinux 2.3 features several tweaks, including modifications to the Lizard installation program, which allows OpenLinux talk to more video and sound cards, said Erik Hughes, a Caldera product director. It also offers better choices during installation, including options for home users, business users, servers, and software developers. Caldera released the Lizard program as open source last month, meaning that anyone may use and modify the software.

Red Hat, meanwhile, has released a beta version of its latest Linux release, code-named Lorax. The software includes a reptilian installation utility of its own, called Anaconda, according to the discussion site Slashdot.

Also today, Red Hat saw its stock price soar to new heights, buoyed by the beginning of steady coverage by Wall Street financial analysts and a spate of publicity following the end of the company's so-called quiet period.

Though Linux can be bought for relatively low cost or downloaded for free, companies such as Red Hat and Caldera Systems hope to make money by selling technical support for the Unix-like operating system. Such services are considered vital to the software's adoption in corporate environments.

Red Hat may have got the jump, but Caldera Systems appears to want a piece of the same action with a public offering of its own. An industry source said the company plans an IPO by the end of this year, perhaps as soon as the end of November.

But Benoy Tamang, head of marketing for Caldera Systems, said in an interview today that the company is considering both an IPO and an acquisition, and insisted that "We don't have a timeline."

VA Linux systems, a maker of Linux computers, likely will be able to fulfill its founder's prediction that it will be the second Linux IPO, observers say.

Tamang said he's more pleased than worried about the success of Red Hat's public offering. "It's been good for us. It's a rising tide that lifts all ships," he said. "We feel that the ensuing focus and affection for Linux has only grown by bounds by every entity out there that watches the stock market."

Unlike proprietary development projects such as Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris, improvements made to Linux by one company may be adopted by another.

Caldera and Red Hat may be similar in some ways, but their product focus is different. Where Caldera has chosen to focus on relatively unsophisticated users, Red Hat sees big opportunity in expanding into ever more powerful servers.

That could change in coming months, with the release of a new version of Caldera Systems' Linux aimed specifically at servers. "We're working feverishly on completing that product," Hughes said. "The main target will be the 'back office' and enterprise deployment."

One innovation for that new version will be improved manageability--a key feature for administrators whose job it is to control lots of computing devices scattered across a network, Hughes said. The majority of Caldera's 20 or 30 US programmers are working on this management software, code-named Lone Wolf, Tamang said.

The management component is a key part of Caldera's push to make money by selling Linux services rather than the software itself, Tamang said.

"The majority of the business will be service-based," Tamang said. Caldera's service software will help companies "adapt themselves to the new paradigm" of open-source software, he said.

But it's not easy to find all the Linux talent needed to accomplish these tasks, he said. "We're hiring like crazy, but we have insufficient labor supply," Tamang said.