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Progeny reborn as Linux services company

Indianapolis-based Progeny Linux Systems completes its metamorphosis into a Linux services company and turns over software to the open-source community.

Progeny Linux Systems has decided to stop developing its own version of the open-source operating system and instead focus on selling services, the company said Monday.

The move completes a change in strategy started in July, when the Indianapolis-based company decided it would focus more of its efforts on services and away from developing its own version of the Linux distribution known as Debian.

"We were burning too much cash doing development," said CEO Steve Schafer. "Now we are cash-positive."

Numerous Linux companies have shifted business strategies this year in an effort to bolster profits amid a sagging economy and cooled investor enthusiasm for open-source software.

French Linux specialist MandrakeSoft is pushing a software-subscription program, Turbolinux is emphasizing higher-level software, and VA Linux Systems is selling proprietary software.

In addition to easing the strain on Progeny's checkbook, the move means the company won't create a proprietary version of the free operating system, a possibility that worried some Linux developers.

However, by moving away from a proprietary version and rejoining the original Debian Linux effort, Progeny is favoring a Linux distribution that is the slowest to integrate new software developments.

The Debian distribution is considered by many to be the most strict in its adherence to open-source principles. Typically, developers only work on the project in their free time, and deadlines are announced by project leaders.

That leads to much slower releases. Although the three other major Linux distributions--Red Hat, Mandrake and SuSE--ship a new package every six to 12 months, Debian typically updates the entire distribution every 12 to 18 months.

The slow development cycle was the original reason Progeny decided to work on its own variation of Debian, adding enhancements that other distributions of Linux already had but ahead of the original Debian project's schedule.

"We couldn't wait for Debian to go from one distribution to another in two-year jumps," Schafer said.

Progeny added enhancements to the installer, the update software and the graphical desktop interface. In the middle of creating the second version of the software, the company had a crisis when proposed changes ran counter to the direction of the main Debian effort--a problem known as "forking."

"We found ourselves at a point that if we forced innovation on Debian, it would fork the distribution," Schafer said.

Instead, the company has decided to fully concentrate on consulting services. Progeny will still advocate Debian to its customers, but the company will work with other Linux versions as well, Schafer said.

The company has turned over most of the proprietary portions of its distribution to the open-source project in charge of developing future versions of Debian Linux.