Price of Linux computers falling

On the eve of Linux Expo, a company called IndyBox expands the options for low-cost computers running the upstart operating system.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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3 min read
The options for low-cost Linux computers expanded again today with the rollout of a rack-mounted server for $650 on the eve of Linux Expo.

The announcement from IndyBox is one of many coming in advance of the Linux Expo, which begins tomorrow in Raleigh, North Carolina. Also today, Cygnus Solutions said it will work with Alpha Processor Incorporated to improve its compiler technology for Compaq Computer's Alpha chips.

The conference will officially kick off with a keynote address from Robert Young, chief executive of Red Hat. Other keynotes will be from Compaq's Jim Gettys, a co-author of the X Windows graphical user interface system, and John Paul, vice president of Netscape Communication's server product division.

Cheap is one of the operative words in the Linux world. Unlike Microsoft Windows, Linux can be installed at no cost, which has facilitated the trend toward super-cheap computers. A few years ago, a cheap computer cost less than $2,000, but now machines can be bought for less than $400 and relative unknowns such as Emachines have made serious inroads on mainstream PC makers.

Another factor is the AMD K6-2 line of processors, the engines behind cheap Linux boxes from companies such as the Linux Store, Penguin Computing, Computing Underground, and IndyBox.

IndyBox introduced a Linux computer two months ago for $425. Today's announcement adds a rack-mountable computer to the line, which will be targeted at customers such as ISPs who need to stack lots of servers together in a relatively small amount of space.

At IndyBox, changing to a Microsoft operating system or an Intel processor significantly raises the price. The workstation edition of Windows NT costs an extra $200; the server edition with a five-client license costs $640. A system with a 350-MHz Pentium II chip costs $290 more than a comparably configured systems with a 350-MHz AMD K6-2.

Meanwhile, Cygnus' compiler work will likely help improve the prospect of more Alpha-Linux machines. Compilers, roughly speaking, translate programs into instructions a chip can understand and thereby allow a certain chip to understand a given software platform. Compaq said in April it plans to release some of its own Alpha compiler technology, though it won't release it to the open-source community.

Cygnus, in contrast, releases many products as open source, meaning that anyone can see, use, and modify the original programming instructions of a piece of software. The company has written the bulk of the compilers used by the Linux operating system, and some of that work has been funded by Intel.

Cygnus is expected by many to take its company public in the future. The company is running a contest for a new name as well as a stock ticker symbol, a move likely spurred by the fact that another company, Cygnus Incorporated, exists and is publicly traded under the "CYGN" stock ticker symbol.

Although going public "is certainly a topic of discussion that comes up," Cygnus spokeswoman Becky Wood said today, "we don't have officially announced plans to go public. There's nothing in motion."

Cygnus plans to announce its new name in July or August, she added.

In other Linux news coming on the eve of Linux Expo:

 Linux hardware maker VA Linux Systems debuted its Linux.com Web site last night, logging 100,000 unique visitors in the first 30 minutes.
 Programming software maker Metroworks will show a version of its CodeWarrior that works with Red Hat's version of Linux.
 LinuxCare has announced LinuxCare Labs, which will independently certify that different companies' hardware works with Linux. Dell and Compaq have the first products so far to meet that certification, LinuxCare said.
 Pacific HiTech has changed its name to TurboLinux, the name of its flagship product.
 MathSoft, which makes math number-crunching programs, has a Linux version of its S-Plus 5 software, including trial version that ships with Red Hat's Linux.
 Power Center Software's system management software now is available for Linux as well as several other operating systems. The software automatically detects and corrects problems with computers and other equipment on a network.