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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

IBM sells Linux to retailers

Big Blue makes some progress in a new part of its effort to spread the Linux operating system far and wide, selling thousands of high-tech cash registers to two sizable customers.

IBM has made some progress in its effort to spread the Linux operating system far and wide, selling thousands of high-tech cash registers to two sizable customers.

Regal Entertainment Group, which operates hundreds of theaters, will use the systems in 2,700 concession stands by the end of this year and in 3,500 stands by the end of next, IBM plans to announce Wednesday. And Casas Bahia, a Brazilian retailer, plans to install 1,500 of the systems in 320 stores.

Both customers are using Red Hat's version of Linux in the IBM "point-of-sale" terminals, the special-purpose networked PCs that serve the role once held by basic cash registers.

Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system, has been spreading across the computing industry and now is well established in the market for servers, or higher-end networked computers. But computing giants such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer haven't pushed Linux for desktop PCs, which currently run Microsoft's Windows almost exclusively.

That's beginning to change somewhat. Sun Microsystems, for example, last week started describing its effort to sell Linux PCs to companies that need fixed-function systems, not general-purpose PCs. Red Hat, the leading Linux seller, is also gearing its soon-to-arrive version 8.0 at some corporate desktop users.

Microsoft also is trying to find a place in the market with various "embedded" operating systems.

Regal, which runs more than 550 theaters including the United Artists chain, will connect the point-of-sales systems to its back-end IBM iSeries server in its Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters.

Regal evidently found IBM's products convincing, but the company isn't fully wedded to Big Blue. A newly combined HP and Compaq Computer stole a contract to sell PCs to Regal that IBM almost had in the bag.

The Casas Bahia systems replace PCs running Microsoft's elderly DOS operating system, which lacked needed security and management features. The company plans to use Linux servers as well as part of a plan to move toward a Linux-only environment, IBM said.