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Red Hat partners with Eazel for online services

The well-established Linux company joins the newcomer in uniting their online services, one of a host of partnerships emerging in the open-source market.

Red Hat, a comparatively well-established Linux company, has joined newcomer and potential competitor Eazel in uniting their online services, one of a host of partnerships emerging this week in the open-source market.

Eazel, founded by a collection of former Apple programmers, has been focused on making Linux easier to use for ordinary desktop computers. Red Hat, in contrast, has aimed at a different market--the use of Linux on servers. But both had been building online subscription services designed to automatically update Linux computers to free customers from administration tasks.

Under the deal, to be announced Monday, Red Hat will build into its future versions of Linux Eazel's Nautilus software package, a recreation of the Netscape vision of having an Internet browser replace the desktop interface tasks ordinarily handled by the operating system. Nautilus will act as a link to enable use of the Red Hat Network, which automatically finds and installs updates to Linux and accompanying software, the companies said.

The deal is one of a host triggered either by the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo conference this week or by the consolidation of Linux companies. As the excitement around the operating system has eased back to a less shrill tone, venture capital funding has dried up and Linux companies have begun banding together.

Eazel and Red Hat, for example, each signed other deals announced Monday. Red Hat invested $20 million in Cradle Technologies, which is designing a new chip for "embedded" non-PC computing devices. Eazel inked a partnership with an application service provider called WorkSpot to host an online version of Nautilus that will be available not just to Linux computers but also to Windows and Mac OS machines.

Other partnerships have a more desperate tone: Turbolinux is considering acquiring Linuxcare, and Ebiz Enterprises' purchase of JBSi and Caldera Systems' Partner Axis group. Corel, meanwhile, is selling off its Linux operations, likely to Linux Global Partners.

Other partnerships have been announced even before the Linux trade show began. Sendmail, an open-source e-mail company, signed a deal that will give its software a place beside Red Hat Linux on an upcoming Dell server. Hewlett-Packard and Maxtor hired Linuxcare to help build Linux-based network storage devices. And CollabNet, a site devoted to fostering open-source projects, convinced Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein to pay for its services.

The Eazel-Red Hat deal has a number of ramifications, chief among them the elimination of competition for customers seeking software update services. Though Eazel and Red Hat had different target markets, their parallel technology meant a smaller market for each company while Microsoft blazed ahead with Windows Update and other subscription plans.

Less important, the deal cements a software called Red Hat Package Manager, or RPM, as one of the top two ways to easily update Linux computers. RPM is used in Caldera, SuSE, Mandrake, Turbolinux and other Red Hat competitors; the Debian version of Linux uses its own system. Eazel said it will include Red Hat RPM files on its site.

Eazel ultimately hopes Nautilus will become the core of a "network user environment," essentially a gussied-up Web browser that lessens the distinction between whether a document or program is stored on a local computer or on the network. Eazel also promises Nautilus will be a convenient channel for backing up data and other administrative chores.

Perhaps more significantly in the long run, Nautilus will be part of a person's e-commerce activities. This feature pits it against similar software from Ximian, another company hoping to profit by use of Linux on desktop computers.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based WorkSpot will help Eazel demonstrate Nautilus by hosting an online version of the software at its Web site, called AppSpot. AppSpot lets Linux or Unix software run on a server, allowing people with a Web browser to use it over the network. The company also hosts a version of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice software suite, a competitor to Microsoft Office.

Eazel, based in Mountain View, Calif., has received $11 million in funding from Accel Partners and an undisclosed investment from Dell Computer.

Money for Cradle
The Red Hat funding for Cradle will help further the companies' mutual effort to form the Open Source Initiative for Real-Time Embedded Processing, a program to be launched later this spring to provide a royalty-free library of software available to embedded computing customers.

Cradle is developing a collection of chips that the company boasts will reduce the cost or increase the power of embedded computing devices. Cradle's technology is called "stream processing," which actually runs programs on dozens of small, independent processors in a system Cradle calls the "universal microsystem."

Cradle's technology requires special support for programmers, however, and Red Hat will provide these software development tools for Cradle, the companies said.

Red Hat, along with several other Linux companies, is taking on traditional embedded operating system companies such as QNX and Wind River.

Cradle is based in Fremont, Calif. Red Hat is based in Durham, N.C.