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HP opens gadget-software source code

Hewlett-Packard will release several components of its "Cooltown" software project as open source, hoping to spur interest in its vision for a world filled with interconnected gadgets.

Hewlett-Packard will release several components of its "Cooltown" software project as open source Monday, hoping to spur interest in the company's vision for a world filled with interconnected computing gadgets.

The Cooltown project, under way for years at HP Labs, is a project to attach Web pages to everyone and everything so that computing services are everywhere. In HP's vision, bus stops would broadcast schedule information, alarm clocks would wake people up according to their computer's calendar, and a car could find the nearest gas station--and HP would sell many heavy-duty servers to power all these services.

Thus far, though, HP's Cooltown vision has been confined to the lab. But to spur interest on the part of programmers outside HP, the company will announce at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention a project called CoolBase under which it's making several of the underpinnings of Cooltown available to anyone, said Gene Becker, director of the Cooltown project.

The Cooltown components will be released under the General Public License, said Bruce Perens, HP's open-source and Linux strategist. Linux, also governed by the GPL, is the most successful open-source project--a collaborative effort in which the software's underpinnings may be seen and modified by anyone without the constraints of proprietary software.

HP hired Perens, who helped write the Open Source Definition in 1998, to help navigate the sometimes-choppy open-source seas.

It's tough to participate in the open-source world, but many companies are trying their hardest. The hope generally is that a large programmer community will embrace a company's project, improve it and nudge the computer world in a direction favorable to that company.

"A lot of companies seem to keep throwing technology over the wall under the GPL and thinking, 'We'll have the community build this for us,'" Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt said, mentioning Compaq's effort to spread software for improving Linux on high-end computers.

One of HP's earliest forays into the open-source world, E-speak, hasn't caught on the way HP had hoped.

The software HP is releasing Monday includes the CoolBase Appliance Server, a small program that can deliver Web pages and interact with other computers.

Another component is Esquirt, which, among other things, could allow someone with a device such as a handheld computer or a cell phone to direct another device to a specific Web address with the purpose of performing a particular function. For example, a person could tell a machine at a photo kiosk to go to a Web page and print out the photos on the page.

HP is also releasing software that will allow people to program "beacons," such as museum exhibits, that will broadcast information to passers-by. And the Web Presence Manager is software that stores and displays the properties of some entity, for example, keeping track of who's in a room or what devices a person is carrying.

To help spur more interest in CoolBase, HP has enlisted the aid of Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and several other universities that are working on technology with networks of communicating gadgets.

HP estimated it is releasing about 150,000 lines of software in CoolBase.