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Linux conference shows advances amid investor ennui

Diminished Wall Street enthusiasm notwithstanding, the continuing progress of Linux in everything from golf carts to supercomputers will be visible at a Linux conference this week.

Diminished Wall Street enthusiasm notwithstanding, the continuing progress of Linux in everything from golf carts to supercomputers will be visible at a Linux conference this week.

Start-ups and established companies will be fighting for the spotlight in San Jose, Calif., this week as the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo triggers a cascade of announcements and demonstrations of Linux technology.

The announcements highlight three areas into which Linux is spreading: its stronghold of servers, its continuing challenge of desktops and its new frontier of non-PC "embedded" computing devices.

When the stock market burped last March and investors withdrew their generous treatment of high-tech companies, Linux companies lost their vaunted status. But the software itself is still popular among computer makers, software companies and others betting that Linux will prevail.

Traditional computer makers such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer and SGI are among the most aggressive to embrace Linux--and with reason. These manufacturers see Linux as a means to sell more hardware, software and services. They can add Linux to a stable of other products without having to rely on it the way Linux-specific companies such as Linuxcare, Red Hat or VA Linux Systems must.

Dell chief executive Michael Dell will deliver the conference's first keynote tomorrow. Dell is closely aligned with Red Hat in its Linux push.

IBM will announce a plan to release several software packages to the "open-source" community of programmers who collectively create Linux, said Robert LeBlanc, vice president of IBM's software group. Among them are the Andrew File System, a software package for sharing files across a network; a collection of 100 new printer drivers and the Omni printer driver framework for writing new drivers; and "dynamic probe" software to uncover bugs in software.

IBM also will demonstrate its memory-doubling technology for Linux, a development that won't be available in products until later, as well as unveil a new Linux product that joins together parcels of eight, 16, 24 or 32 Intel servers within a high-speed network. The product, with a starting price of $115,000, is primarily for number crunching and high-speed Web or email servers.

In addition, IBM will begin selling its NetVista thin clients now running TurboLinux's version of Linux, said Peter Hortensius, director of technology development at IBM's Personal Systems Group. IBM pays TurboLinux for support of the systems, he said.

HP is trying to unify its Linux efforts under a new organization, the Open Source and Linux Operation. HP also will release several software packages for Linux servers.

Meanwhile, SGI, a company that has bet much of its future on Linux, will show some of the more advanced systems at the show. It will demonstrate a 128-processor cluster of Linux servers acting as a single high-performance graphics workstation, as well as another system with eight Itanium processors, the company said.

SGI will emphasize using Linux in scientific and technical computing, electronic design, biological-information processing, streaming media, e-commerce, digital film creation and other specialized tasks where SGI hopes to carve out a niche.

A host of start-ups also will be announcing new server products:

• Great Bridge will tout measurements showing how its PostgreSQL-based database software stacks up against competitors, the company said.

• Atipa will showcase its new protective firewall products that protect networks against attack.

• WireX will show how easily its Immunix server software adds Web serving, email, file-sharing and printer-serving abilities.

• Pervasive Software will show its Pervasive.SQL 2000 database software for Linux.

• SteelEye will show new software to let Linux servers run Sendmail email software and Apache Web server software while insulating users from crashes.

On the desktop
Two start-ups in the Linux world--Eazel and Helix Code--are going to push Linux on the desktop, a difficult market because of Linux's technically abstruse roots and Microsoft's dominance.

Eazel has several former Apple Computer employees who designed the Macintosh's user interface, and Helix Code employs Miguel de Icaza, one of the key members of the Gnome desktop user interface and office application effort.

IBM laptops come with Caldera Systems' version of Linux, which uses the KDE user interface. IBM will begin bundling a CD to let people install Helix Code's user interface as well, the company said.

Sun Microsystems, ordinarily lukewarm toward Linux, also has an increasing presence on the desktop because of its advocacy of its StarOffice software, a competitor to Microsoft Windows.

One of the areas where Linux has taken hold is among gamers. Indrema, a company building a Linux-based video game console, will announce a partnership with Collab.Net to build a site for hosting the development of software to support next-generation games. The site, called the Indrema Developer Network, will use Collab.Net's SourceCast site for collaborative software development, the companies said.

Embedded Linux
Linux also will be making appearances in handheld gadgets and other nonstandard computing devices.

One unusual use will be from Applied Data, which will show embedded software used in golf carts. Applied Data has a browser that runs on Intel's StrongArm 1110 chip.

The golf cart application, from a company called ParView, lets golfers determine their location with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. The location information "provides golfers with graphical hole and green overviews with exact distancing, electronic scoring, a live tournament leader board, weather and safety messaging, two-way radio communication, and food and beverage ordering capability from the cart," the company said.

In addition, IBM will show its Linux-powered watch.

Also in the embedded market, Motorola will announce a new partnership. The wireless communications company, an investor in Caldera, Lineo, Linuxcare and LynuxWorks, is pushing to have Linux used on its telecommunications servers.