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Corel boosts Linux plans

With its sights set on Microsoft's Windows stronghold, Corel bolsters its Linux-for-everyone strategy by collaborating with three firms to improve video, font and audio features of the operating system.

With its sights set on Microsoft's Windows stronghold, Corel has bolstered its Linux-for-everyone strategy by collaborating with three firms to improve video, font and audio features of the operating system.

Corel--which now sells its own version of Linux and has embarked on a strategy to sell its office software as well--is betting that the operating system will become more popular not just in servers but also on ordinary desktop computers. As such, the Ottawa, Canada, company is going after Microsoft, which dominates the consumer OS market.

But one factor dampening more widespread adoption of Linux by unsophisticated computer users is the sometimes incomplete support for hardware. For example, some video cards work under Linux, but the operating system isn't able to take advantage of all the features such as accelerated drawing of three-dimensional graphics.

Corel hopes to address this weakness with deals with S3, Creative Labs and Bitstream. With help from those three, Corel will support various hardware and software technologies in its Linux products. In exchange, the outside companies will help do the necessary programming to make it work.

Linux is an open-source operating system based on Unix and available for free or very low cost from several companies. It's currently popular for use in servers, and many believe Linux competes both with Microsoft Windows and with various versions of Unix.

While Linux is popular with investors at the moment, most notably exemplified by the record IPO from hardware maker VA Linux last week, it's not a given that Corel will prosper by betting on the relatively new operating system.

And the company faces other challenges. Its chief executive, Michael Cowpland, is facing insider trading charges. The company's chief financial officer just resigned. And there has been persistent speculation that Red Hat, the company currently dominating Linux sales, might be interested in acquiring Corel.

But Corel is forging ahead, with the release of its own version and Cowpland's prediction that half the company revenue would come from Linux software.

Meanwhile, Corel and others are collaborating to improve the product. The company has licensed Bitstream software that will allow Linux to display Postscript and TrueType fonts. Creative Labs' sound card driver has been released into the open-source programming community that collectively writes Linux. And a new driver for S3's latest video card, which uses IBM's Fire GL chip, will be bundled with Corel Linux.

It's not always easy to convince a company to write Linux drivers. Those companies have plenty of work just writing Windows drivers for the parade of new printers, network cards, video cards and other equipment that plugs into a computer.

A good case in point is Creative Labs, maker of the Sound Blaster sound cards that became a de facto standard with the rise of Windows earlier this decade. Though many Linux developers had worked on improvising the necessary support in Linux from what documentation they could scrape together, Creative Labs didn't support the effort.

Now the company has turned completely around. It released Linux Sound Blaster support on Nov. 1 that quickly is making its way into the Linux kernel, the heart of the operating system.

It's a moment of triumph for Creative Labs programmer Jacob Hawley, who along with two colleagues began work on the audio support for Linux without their company's endorsement.

"I started this effort late last year without corporate sponsorship. Around February, I finally got permission to start doing the development," he said. The three programmers working on the project quickly blossomed into 45, including Alan Cox, widely regarded as the second most influential Linux programmer after founder Linus Torvalds.

"Alan Cox said earlier this week it's finally ready to be merged into the kernel," Hawley said.

Though Hawley clearly is gratified with the support he eventually won from his company, there are higher rewards involved when it comes to helping out with the Linux project, he said.

"This is just extraordinary. How do you leave your mark on humanity? That's the sort feeling [a person gets]," Hawley said. "We've done something that has affected the industry."