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Intel mulls Linux Centrino support

The chipmaker will likely take a two-phase approach to providing software that Linux needs to take advantage of the Centrino chips.

NEW YORK--Intel has in mind a two-phase approach to providing software that Linux needs to take advantage of the processor maker's Centrino chips, an Intel executive said Wednesday.

The chipmaker likely will begin by releasing a proprietary software module, called a driver, said Will Swope, general manager of Intel's Software and Solutions Group, speaking in an interview at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here. He said he hopes the company will later offer an open-source driver, software that the general Linux programming community may scrutinize and reshape if desired.

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The move would mean Intel is working to ensure that support for Linux is on par with that for Microsoft Windows, which has had full support since Centrino launched in March 2003.

Though Linux is not a major force on desktop and mobile computers, the lack of Centrino support has rankled Linux fans and given them little reason to spend money on Intel's premier laptop technology.

Thus far Linux can use only two of Centrino's three components--the Pentium M processor and an accompanying chipset. Linux hasn't been able to take advantage of the third and distinguishing component, the wireless networking electronics, though Intel has written a driver to enable such support in its labs.

There are ways around the Centrino issue for Linux users willing to lean on Windows software. A Montreal-based company, Linuxant, sells a $20 software package that wraps a Linux interface around the Windows driver for Intel wireless networking chips.

Intel has been reluctant to release its driver as open-source software because its inner workings reveal intellectual property regarding the wireless gear that Intel wants to keep secret, Swope said.

"What I believe will happen is we will end up having a Linux compatibility driver that is not open source at first, then designing future drivers in such a way that they are open source but will not expose intellectual property," Swope said.

Swope didn't detail the schedule for Intel's driver release plans.

Though much of Intel's financial success came in partnership with Microsoft's software, the company has become an avid supporter of Linux.

In years past, it was an early investor in Linux seller Red Hat and helped Linux programmers to support Intel chip features.

More recently, Intel contributed to a legal defense fund to protect Linux users from SCO Group's attack on Linux.

And on Wednesday, Intel announced the new version 2.0 of its $699 VTune software to help programmers find software bottlenecks, adding support for software running on Intel Itanium processors.