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Intel throws weight behind Linux

VA Research is receiving an investment from Intel and has acquired the coveted Linux.com domain name.

VA Research is receiving an investment from Intel and has acquired the coveted Linux.com domain name for use as a portal site dedicated to the Unix-like operating system.

The announcements are expected to occur this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Jose, California.

Intel's Linux-related investment, on the heels of others, furthers the chipmaker's support of operating systems other than those developed by Microsoft.

In a related announcement, database maker Oracle plans to make an unspecified equity investment in Red Hat Software, according to the Wall Street Journal. Red Hat sells the operating system along with customer support.

In another boost for Linux, Silicon Graphics, Hewlett-Packard, and other companies are expected to join in a show of support for the fast-growing OS this week.

HP, a partner with Intel in the IA-64 chip plan, also has pledged to bring Linux to IA-64 chips. SGI's Intel-based Visual Workstations get a 15 percent to 30 percent performance benefit from graphics capabilities in Intel's new Pentium III chip, and SGI has made part of its OpenGL 3-D graphics system available to the open-source community--the group of programmers who have helped make Linux successful. SGI also is working with Red Hat and others to make OpenGL useful under Linux.

Obtaining the Linux.com domain is a coup for privately held VA Research, which has sold Linux computers since 1993. The company plans to use the domain for a general-purpose Linux site, complete with archives, technical information and news. VA Research will maintain the site and it will be governed by an advisory board from the Linux community.

The address has been registered to Linux developer Fred van Kempen. Sources said competition for the domain name was intense.

VA Research spokespeople declined comment on whether it had obtained Linux.com or whether it would receive an investment from Intel. Spokespeople for Intel could not be reached for comment.

Although VA Research faces increased competition as giants such as IBM, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, and HP join the Linux trend, the company is holding its own. VA, for example, was able to offer new Pentium III-based systems Friday--timed with the debut of the new chip.

In a previous interview, VA Research chief executive Larry Augustin said part of his company's goal is to help the Linux community push Linux into heavier-duty hardware systems, where many processors are running side-by-side.

Intel's move boosts Microsoft competition
Intel's stake in VA Research comes less than a week after the chipmaker teamed with development tool company Cygnus Solutions to bring support for new Pentium chips to Linux software development tools. Five months ago, Intel announced an investment in Red Hat, which sells distributions of Linux packaged with other software and technical support. Acting like a venture capitalist, the chip giant typically makes minority investments in these companies.

Intel executives have said the support for Linux is part of the company's plan to make its chips the "unifying architecture" that many different companies choose as the hardware beneath their operating systems. Intel is helping Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Santa Cruz Operation, Compaq, and others port their operating systems to IA-64 chips.

"They don't care what it's running as long as there's an Intel chip inside it," said Tom Henkel, an analyst with Gartner Group.

When computer users are demanding a new operating system, Intel wants to make sure that the OS works on Intel chips, Mike Pope, manager of enterprise software programs at Intel, has said previously. That's why Intel invested in Red Hat and Cygnus.

Microsoft concedes that Linux poses competition but claims that the Intel investments aren't a threat. "We have to earn our way in the marketplace every day," said Ed Muth, group product manager for Windows 2000.

"We have always had a good relationship with Intel," Muth said. "We understand the business opportunities Intel perceives [that are] unrelated to Windows."

He added that Microsoft has taken similar steps by selecting non-Intel chips for Windows NT and Windows CE. Muth also argued that Linux competes more with Unix operating systems than it does with Windows, and "most of the world does not want to run Unix, particularly on their desktop."

But some analysts think Microsoft downplays the threat. The fast growth of Linux "has come at the expense of Windows NT and second-tier Unix vendors," Gartner's Henkel said.

Linux has hit a sweet spot by offering Unix reliability without the high price. "Customers are opting for the blue light special over the blue screen special," Henkel said, referring to the Linux's low cost and the "blue screen of death" that displays when Windows NT crashes.

News.com's Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.