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Three firms to boost traditional Linux version

Debian, the version of the Linux operating system considered to be truest to the open-source effort's roots, will get a boost with backing from VA Linux Systems, O'Reilly and Associates, and computer maker SGI.

Debian, the version of the Linux operating system considered to be truest to the open-source effort's roots, will get a boost tomorrow with backing from VA Linux Systems, O'Reilly and Associates, and computer maker SGI.

The three companies will begin offering a $20 book and CD-ROM package designed to keep the Debian version of Linux apace with the versions from the big commercial sellers of Linux, Red Hat, SuSE, TurboLinux, and Caldera Systems, the companies will announce tomorrow.

Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system, was created by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds. It's an open-source program, meaning that many can add to its development.

VA, which still will offer all the major Linux versions, said many customers request the Debian version of Linux, though Red Hat is still the most frequently requested. But the company felt Debian needed firmer support before corporate buyers would be comfortable using it, said Brian Biles, vice president of marketing at VA.

"This will make it reasonable for commercial customers," Biles said. "There are other Debian packages available in the United States, but we didn't feel the quality was high enough."

Debian will grow closer to its for-profit rivals with the addition of a toll-free technical support line that VA Linux will sponsor.

The companies won't be taking over the Debian version, Biles added. "We're not going to change the way it works or change the organization," he said. "All we're trying to do is expand their demographic"--in other words, make Debian appealing to more people.

Part of the way that will be accomplished is through retail sales at software stores, an effort VA is spearheading, Biles said. "Hopefully a lot more people are going to try it out," he said. The package will be available for purchase by the end of the week, Biles said.

O'Reilly and Associates, a book publisher, is an advocate of open-source software such as Linux. In the open-source world, the original programming instructions, or "source code," of software, may be freely shared, modified, and redistributed.

The O'Reilly and Associates book on Debian, taking a page from its Linux for Network Administrators and Open Sources books, will be downloadable over the Internet, added Mark Stone, executive editor for the open-source group at the publisher.

The book text will be available under the Open Publication License, which allows the text to be freely modified and redistributed.

Debian is bigger than just a version of Linux, Stone said.

"Debian is more than an engineering project. It's a social project as well," he said. The Debian project closely follows the principles of the open-source movement, coming only with software that is completely open source.

In contrast, Linux software from Red Hat, Caldera Systems, and TurboLinux comes packaged with proprietary and closed-source software, though the core Linux components are open source.

Because of this emphasis on pure open source, the Debian project has close ties to the Gnu project founded by Richard Stallman, who has championed the open-source philosophy. Debian refers to its software not as Linux, but as Gnu/Linux, because several of the components used alongside the core Linux software originated with the Gnu project.

Debian also got a boost when Corel announced its upcoming version of Linux will be based on Debian.

VA Linux, which has received investments from SGI and Intel, filed its intent to hold an initial public offering last week.