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AOL tests Linux-based Web appliance software

The online giant is testing new software that will allow Linux-based Web appliances to access its popular services and browse the Web.

America Online is testing new software that will allow Linux-based Web appliances to access its popular services and browse the Web.

Details of the new software were posted this weekend on Kenton.org, the Web site that last week posted a download link for a test version of AOL's upcoming version 6.0 software. The site includes links to documents detailing the software's features and capabilities.

Dubbed "Gamera," the software is in "pre-alpha" testing, meaning it is in the preliminary stages of development. The current incarnation of Gamera combines Web browsing, instant messaging, chat, email, graphics and file transfer capabilities, according to details posted on the Web site.

According to AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato, Gamera is the project name for a "'lite' client for Web appliances."

D'Amato said the information on Kenton.org is not available for viewing by general AOL users. He added that AOL is looking into why the information was posted on the site and said the online giant will "take the appropriate action" when it determines how it was obtained.

The initiative to create an AOL service for Web appliances was announced in April during the Spring Internet World conference. At the time, AOL and PC manufacturer Gateway announced they would develop non-PC Net products, including a countertop appliance, wireless Web pad and desktop appliance.

Details of Gamera come as AOL takes more concerted steps toward adopting the Linux operating system into its future generations of products. Today, AOL and Gateway selected upstart chipmaker Transmeta to provide processors and software for an upcoming line of Internet appliances.

As first reported by CNET News.com, AOL has been known to be working on a Linux device since May 1999. But AOL refocused its device initiatives after it invested $800 million in Gateway last October.

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Using free operating systems such as Linux allows a company to avoid license fees that would likely otherwise have to be paid to a company, such as Microsoft, that could supply a competing operating system. It also gives a company more control over the operating system. Linux is still a relatively new product in a constant state of change, however.

According to the information posted on Kenton.org, Gamera is the first example of AOL's attempts to expand its services onto non-PC devices.

Gamera's browser will be powered by Gecko, the browsing software developed by AOL's Netscape Communications subsidiary. Gecko is a slimmed-down version of Netscape's Communicator browser and is the first technology produced under Mozilla, Netscape's open-source development project. With open-source software, anyone can see and modify the original programming blueprints, or "source code," of a program.

Gecko technology is also the centerpiece of "AOL Anywhere," the online giant's initiative to offer its services on non-PC devices, such as cell phones, pagers and Web-enabled appliances.

The Gamera information on Kenton.org says the pre-alpha version can be used on a Pentium PC running on Linux, with Red Hat 6.1 as the recommended version of Linux. The device uses Red Hat's "RPM" technology, which allows software to be upgraded.

At present, however, the Gamera software lacks support for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption software, which allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers to be encoded before being transmitted across the Internet, Kenton.org said. It also cannot yet run Java software or handle email attachments, the site said.

News.com's Joe Wilcox and Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.