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VA adds Linux to the masthead

VA Research will now call itself VA Linux Systems. The company also announces that it's acquiring two other Linux companies.

Linux computer seller VA Research has renamed itself VA Linux Systems and is acquiring two other Linux companies, Linux Hardware Solutions and Enlightenment Solutions.

In addition, VA Linux Solutions has reorganized into two sections, one to focus on selling systems and one to focus on Linux research and development, VA chief executive Larry Augustin said today.

VA acquired the companies chiefly for the personnel, Augustin said. In particular, Linux Hardware Solutions chief executive Kit Cosper will lead VA's customer service and customer satisfaction operations, while Enlightenment Solutions' Geoff "Mandrake" Harrison will join VA's new research section, VA Linux Labs. With more than 10 new employees from the two companies, VA's headcount now tops 100, Augustin added.

Augustin declined to describe terms of the deals.

VA will keep Linux Hardware Solutions' Wilmington, North Carolina, offices as its southeast U.S. sales and support center, Augustin said.

Cosper and Augustin have "always been friendly competitors," Augustin noted.

Harrison is one of the contributors to the Enlightenment effort to create a next-generation windows manager for the Linux operating system. He formed Enlightenment Solutions in November 1998.

VA also has acquired Enlightenment Solutions' configuration tool for the popular Apache Web server, Augustin said. That software will be released to the open source community, he added.

The new labs section will focus on "advancing the state of the art of Linux," Augustin said. It presently has about 25 employees--roughly a quarter of the company--but Augustin expects the computer sales part of VA to grow faster.

VA Linux Labs will be headed by Gregg Zehr, the company said. On Linux Labs' agenda are Project Trillian to port Linux to Intel's upcoming 64-bit chips.

Other members of VA Linux Labs are San Mehat, architect of the diminutive StrongARM-based Netwinder Linux computers developed by Corel and now in the hands of Hardware Computing Canada, and Mark Vojkevich, who has helped with the Xfree86 effort to improve Linux support for X Windows, a basic Unix graphical user interface technology.

VA has been shipping Linux computers since 1993, but its volume has surged with the booming interest in the Unix-like operating system. The company signed up contract manufacturer Flextronics to build most of its mainstream boxes.

VA has Dell-sized aspirations, but plans to "make sure we don't disconnect ourselves from the Linux community and the Linux roots," Augustin said.

The world's largest computer companies, including IBM, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, are getting into the Linux market, but so far, "We don't bump heads against the big guys right now," Augustin said. In fact, VA has done "coopetition" deals with IBM in which VA supplies hardware and IBM supplies on-site support, he said.

VA also has big-name backing from Intel, which has invested in VA.

VA isn't the only game in town with Linux prominently displayed on the business plan. Penguin Computing and The Linux Store have joined the fray as well.

Two months ago, VA announced the acquisition of the Web address and said the company would use it for a Linux portal site. The site is mostly done and will be unveiled within two weeks, he said. "It's got a lot of content," he said.

One of VA's bigger customers are national labs and others using "Beowulf" clusters of Linux boxes tied together into a low-cost, high-power number crunchers, Augustin said. VA plans to do some work to make it easier to set up and use such computer systems, he said.