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Linux-on-Mac seller aims to fill void

Originally selling Linux for Macs that used IBM's PowerPC chips, Terra Soft has regrouped in the wake of Apple's Intel switch.

When Apple Computer announced in June that it planned to move to Intel chips, one of the companies left in the lurch was Terra Soft Solutions.

The small Colorado company had carved out a nice niche specializing in selling Linux for Macs and other machines that use IBM's PowerPC chips. In the days following Apple's bombshell, Terra Soft quickly announced plans to seek out alternative hardware on which its Yellow Dog Linux could run.

This week, Terra Soft is announcing it has filled some of the void created by Apple's move. Under a new deal, Terra Soft will resell PowerPC-based servers from Mercury Computer Systems. Mercury's XR9 systems use the same G5 chip as Apple's Xserve, but at 2.4GHz, the chips are slightly faster than those used in Apple's top-of-the-line servers.

"Apple's departure from the PowerPC space is actually going to open up Power."
--Kai Staats, CEO, Terra Soft

Terra Soft CEO Kai Staats said he knows that none of the other companies that he might partner with can match the name recognition and marketing muscle that Apple had.

But at the same time, Staats notes, his software now can talk more directly to the server hardware, without having to work around Apple?s design.

"Apple's departure from the PowerPC space is actually going to open up Power far greater than it ever could," Staats said in an interview. "Apple was such a dominant player. It was difficult for someone else to squeeze in and do a 'me too' (product)."

That said, Staats' company clearly benefited from Apple's hardware, winning a number of deals to provide Linux-equipped server clusters to customers such as the U.S. Navy. Terra Soft was one of a small number of Linux companies that has sold Macs with Linux.

Now, Terra Soft must find other hardware to run its Yellow Dog Linux and convince customers that the PowerPC chip is, on its own, a better option than running a more traditional version of Linux on standard Intel or AMD chips.

Despite the challenges, Staats said it is an exciting time for Terra Soft, allowing the company to shift its work from reverse-engineering Apple's design to what he characterized as a more creative process.

IBM, for its part, praised Staats' effort.

"Collaboration between members of the Power Architecture community like Mercury and Terra Soft continues to deliver new and innovative solutions to the marketplace," Big Blue's Nigel Beck said in a statement.

Although the deal with Mercury gives Terra Soft an alternative to Apple's Xserve, Staats said it is important for customers to also have workstations that run the same software as their server clusters. Staats said Terra Soft is working with a number of companies to ensure that there are desktop and notebook machines on the market as well. In July, the company started reselling the Open Desktop Workstation, a G4-based desktop from Genesi.

At the same time, Apple is not leaving the PowerPC market overnight. Its first Intel-based Macs aren't promised until the middle of next year, and it expects to sell some PowerPC Macs in both 2006 and 2007.