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Free corporate Linux set for test phase

Bruce Perens, a pioneer of the open-source operating system, wants to cut companies' support costs.

SAN FRANCISCO--A test version of UserLinux, a product intended to give corporate customers the utility of Red Hat Linux but not its price tag, is set for release at the start of September.

"Beta 1 will be released on Sept. 1," said UserLinux founder and open-source advocate Bruce Perens in a talk at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. "UserLinux is enterprise Linux without the big price tag."

UserLinux has made some progress on its support plan, rounding up a "small stable" of partners to join a planned group of certified companies. But progress in another key area--getting software partners to certify their products to work with the no-cost UserLinux--isn't satisfactory yet, Perens said.

Red Hat, the dominant seller of Linux, requires its customers to purchase a separate support subscription for each server using the software. And while Linux itself can be downloaded for free, Red Hat charges $299 per server per year for support and updates.

Novell, the No. 2 Linux seller, charges a minimum of $349 per server per year for support for its SuSE Linux product. Both companies increase prices for use on more powerful servers, but neither uses the software industry practice of charging additional "client" fees for each computer that taps into a server.

Perens launched UserLinux after he grew peeved about the terms under which commercial versions of Linux use software he helped write--a debugging tool called Electric Fence.

"As one of the producers whose software is in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, I started to get annoyed with the fact that many business users were paying $200, $300, $400 for Linux software," Perens said.

Software certification is one of the things those customers pay for, but Perens expects progress in that area with UserLinux.

"We do not yet have certified proprietary applications. We expect that to come in the coming year," Perens said. "As the customer count increases, we will be coming to the Oracles of the world and saying, 'Please support your software,'" Perens said.

UserLinux certification, at least in part, will come through compliance with the Linux Standard Base, an attempt to standardize some of Linux's workings, Perens said.

Perens is a longtime backer of the Debian version of Linux, which is the foundation of UserLinux. Using Debian for a base meant Perens didn't have to start from scratch building a development and governance organization, he said.