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New player emerges in embedded Linux race

The race to push Linux into a range of new computing devices is growing increasingly crowded, yet start-up TimeSys says it's different from the pack.

The race to push Linux into a range of new computing devices is growing increasingly crowded.

In most regards, TimeSys resembles its competitors--MontaVista, LynuxWorks and IPO-bound Lineo. It develops its own version of the Linux operating system designed for use in small "embedded" devices such as network routers. The company offers services to help customers design products using the software and sells programming tools.

But the company also has its own individual flavor, said chairman and co-founder Ragunathan Rajkumar. First, its Linux/RT version is "hard real-time," meaning that it's guaranteed to respond within a fixed amount of time--a tricky programming issue but one that makes the software appealing to some customers.

Second, the company will sell software that allows real-time Java software to run on its Linux systems, Rajkumar said.

As is common in the embedded computing landscape, Rajkumar declined to offer details on which customers have signed up to use Linux/RT. One exception, though, is Intel, which plans to use Linux/RT in a security device for fingerprint identification.

Key customers could include telecommunications companies hoping to offer telephone service over the Internet, a technology called voice-over-IP, which Rajkumar said requires servers that offer real-time response rates.

On a 500-MHz Pentium machine, Linux/RT responds in less than 10 microseconds, he said.

The version of Linux was released in May, and the Java software will be released by the end of the year. The advantage of Java is that a program can be written without worrying about what chip or operating system a particular computer is using. However, software flexibility diminishes overall performance and increases the expense of hardware.

Rajkumar expects about 30 percent of customers using TimeSys' Linux will also use the Java software. TimeSys has signed a Java license with Java creator Sun Microsystems but plans to add its own enhancements.

TimeSys was founded in 1996 and is based in Pittsburgh, with offices in San Francisco and Tokyo. The company was profitable in 1999, Rajkumar said.

The company has 40 employees. "We'd like to be double this size in the next three months," Rajkumar said. "The problem is finding the people." CNET's Linux Center

TimeSys has operating funds to last 18 months, though the company expects that a soon-to-be-announced investment round from venture capitalists and corporate partners will provide more funding to expand rapidly, Rajkumar said.

The upcoming round will be the last before an initial public offering, Rajkumar expects.

TimeSys' version of Linux and its real-time additions are open-source software, meaning anyone can download and modify them for free. Higher-level software and services from the company aren't free, however.