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Lineo boosts Linux offerings with acquisition

Lineo, with its sight on a future public offering in the hot market for all things relating to Linux, acquires Zentropix, the first of a series of moves to bolster its effort to push Linux into non-PC computing devices.

NEW YORK--Lineo, with its sight on a future public offering, has acquired Zentropix, the first of a series of moves to bolster its effort to push Linux into non-PC computing devices.

The acquisition, announced today at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here, means Lineo will be able to take advantage of Zentropix's work to let Linux run on systems that must respond instantly--in "real time"--such as factory-floor robots with a stop button.

Lineo, based in Lindon, Utah, is the sister company of Caldera Systems. Caldera Systems, which sells Linux for servers and PCs, has filed to go public. Lineo in January released Embedix, the company's first version of Linux tailored for sub-PC devices such as set-top boxes, and will release programmer tools for Embedix in April, said Lyle Ball, vice president of marketing.

The company plans to go public when the market is right and when its preparations are complete, Ball said.

"Any high-tech company that doesn't have an initial public offering as a goal once products and revenue are in place is not on this planet," he said. He added that because the company still earns revenues from its DR-DOS version of Microsoft's older DOS software, the company is profitable.

The company is working on future deals that will enable Lineo's Linux products to work in sub-PC areas where Lineo is too big, Ball said. In this new area, devices typically only have about 2 megabytes of memory, he said.

Linux is an operating CNET's Linux Center system modeled after Unix and developed by numerous contributors across the Internet. Though its stronghold is in servers based on Intel chips, Lineo and several other companies are working to move it into smaller devices where Intel isn't as dominant.

One of the most serious competitors is Lynx, an expert in the real-time operating system area and creator of the BlueCat version of Linux designed to be "embedded" into non-PC devices. Lynx is receiving support from Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, the company plans to announce soon, a source familiar with the plan said.

In addition, Red Hat, the first Linux company to go public and still the highest-profile of the bunch, yesterday announced programming tools for using Linux on small devices Monday. IBM has joined the companies offering Linux-based "thin clients," stripped down computers that leave the heavy computational work to a server. And thin client manufacturer Neoware Systems will demonstrate a version of "embedded" Linux for Web appliances, hand-held wireless communication devices, and other devices.

Lineo plans to make most of its money from Embedix selling its software development tools, Ball said. The software will allow programmers to select what software packages they want to install easily, then will collect and compile that software for the processor that will be used, he said.

Embedix currently is available for systems using Intel-compatible and PowerPC chips, Ball said, but by the end of September it should work on MIPS chips and some Hitachi chips.

Lineo also has a partnership with Motorola under which Motorola gives Embedix software to companies which may want to incorporate Motorola hardware in their electronics equipment. In addition, products using Embedix include set-top boxes built by Bast and by Meternet.

Lineo named Greg Hill as chief financial officer in January. Hill was formerly CFO of Sensorium Software, a start-up that created software for analyzing business data. Before that, Hill was an executive at Tyco Toys and Phillips Petroleum.

Financial terms of the Zentropix acquisition weren't disclosed, though Ball said the 15 new employees from Zentropix brings Lineo's employee count to more than 60. Both companies are privately owned.