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Maxtor picks Windows, dumps open source

The disk-drive maker switches from the open-source FreeBSD version of Unix to a special-purpose version of Windows 2000 for a new storage system called MaxAttach 4100.

Maxtor has switched from the open-source FreeBSD version of Unix to a special-purpose version of Windows 2000 for a new storage system it's introducing Monday.

The company's new MaxAttach 4100 uses a custom version of Windows 2000 that manufacturers can shape to their own needs when making special-purpose servers called "server appliances." Maxtor chose it over the no-cost, open-source FreeBSD, the operating system used in the MaxAttach 4000, because of required software features, said Steve Wilkins, Maxtor's product marketing director.

FreeBSD did not support large file sizes, Macintosh and newer Novell file systems, or backup and management software from companies such as OpenView, Tivoli and Microsoft, Wilkins said.

The news is sour for advocates of open-source technology, who argue that their cooperative development model is more responsive to customer needs than the proprietary philosophy that underlies Microsoft products.

The Linux operating system is the highest-profile open-source project, but FreeBSD has a strong following as well. There are some differences between the two projects, however: Changes to the heart of Linux must be published publicly by anyone distributing the software, but changes to FreeBSD may be kept secret. This difference makes FreeBSD popular for companies that wish to add their own proprietary code to the mixture.

Microsoft, meanwhile, can gloat about winning over another customer to the malleable version of Windows 2000 for server appliances. This version costs less than the full-fledged version available for general-purpose servers, Wilkins said. Although FreeBSD costs nothing, he said, Milpitas, Calif.-based Maxtor had to devote internal programming efforts to the software.

Dell Computer also has selected the server appliance version of Windows 2000 for a network-attached storage device unveiled last month.

Microsoft adjusted its licensing terms for the Maxtor system, Wilkins noted. Unlike general-purpose servers, a Maxtor machine doesn't require that customers pay for client access licenses--the fees often required for computers that use the server.

"That's the first time Microsoft has done this," Wilkins said.

Still, many analysts say that Linux is good for server appliances and that Linux-based appliances are or will be available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and others.

Maxtor, the largest hard disk maker since its acquisition of Quantum's disk line in October, has been working hard on its line of network-attached storage products, which are storage systems that lie somewhere between gussied-up hard disks and stripped-down file servers.

Maxtor faces numerous competitors in sales of network-attached storage, which Dataquest projects will be a $7.3 billion market in 2004. All the major server companies, while initially slow to move into the market, now are tripping over themselves to compete with market-leading Network Appliance.

Maxtor's new 4100 comes with some higher-end features than its predecessor's. It has a SCSI port for connecting tape backup drives and dual Ethernet network connections for higher performance and better reliability if one fails.

The lower-end version, costing $3,299, has 128MB of memory and 160GB of disk space. The $4,999, higher-end version has 256MB of memory, 320GB of space and a gigabit Ethernet connection. Both machines use standard Intel motherboards and a 566MHz Celeron chip.