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UnitedLinux OS to make public debut

This month, the public will get its first look at the unified version of Linux for businesses, developed by a four-company consortium. Can it really challenge niche leader Red Hat?

UnitedLinux is set to release a preview of its standard version of the Linux operating system for businesses, the four-company consortium said Wednesday.

The preview, due for launch the first week of September, will give potential customers their first chance to evaluate the results of the combined effort by Turbolinux and the SCO Group (formerly Caldera International) in the United States, Conectiva in Brazil, and SuSE in Germany to combine their software efforts to create a uniform version of the operating system for corporations.

The UnitedLinux distribution is based on SuSE's Enterprise Server (SLES) product, but the public beta should reveal how technology has been integrated from the group's other three partners. Version 1.0 of the distribution is expected in November.

As the new software is tailored for the enterprise, its main competition will be Linux software distributor Red Hat's Advanced Server; both are designed to downplay Linux's traditional do-it-yourself flexibility in favor of rock-solid stability. However, UnitedLinux will deliver more for the money than Advanced Server, according to Gregory Blapp, SuSE's vice president for international business and a member of UnitedLinux's board.

"What Red Hat is doing is taking the box, charging $600 more and saying, 'Now you can call us for 12 months,'" Blapp said. "The product is almost the same--not 100 percent--but very close."

SuSE's Enterprise Server and UnitedLinux have had many more resources sunk into customizing the software the way that hardware vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard want it, he said.

The response to the first UnitedLinux beta, which was released only to large UnitedLinux customers, was positive, Blapp said.

UnitedLinux members have all agreed to use practically the same software, down to the installation and configuration tool, which will be SuSE's Yast2. Originally, the members were planning to customize each version of the UnitedLinux distribution, but customers said that this made no sense, Blapp said.

Differentiation between the members' UnitedLinux products will mainly come down to branding, with each partner deciding how prominently to feature the UnitedLinux brand. In Germany, where SuSE is well known, SuSE said it will place less emphasis on that brand, but may "put a bigger UnitedLinux sign on the box" in markets such as the United Kingdom.

UnitedLinux shifts, but stays
Recent changes at the SCO Group and Turbolinux that suggested the UnitedLinux partners might be moving away from Linux have not altered the group's direction, Blapp said. Last month, the SCO Group changed its name from Caldera International to reflect its main business, Unix. However, the shift has not lessened the company's commitment to UnitedLinux, Blapp said.

Last month also saw Turbolinux sell its Linux business and name to Software Research Associates, a Japanese company. This should increase the company's focus on its core market in Asia, Blapp said.

UnitedLinux said it will name a general manager for the United States team next week. SuSE's vice president for development, Markus Rex, said that the regional expertise of companies such as SuSE, Conectiva and Turbolinux would help lure big business customers to UnitedLinux.

"Now we can start going into corporate clients by the front door (and start) making Linux a part of their strategic business plans," he said. "A lot of clients have been waiting for this."