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Linux seller SuSE makes bid for gadget market

Europe's leading distributor of the Linux operating system plans a strong drive into mobile and embedded computing in coming months, sources say.

    Pocket PC had better watch out--Linux is making a play for the handheld computer market.

    SuSE--Europe's leading distributor of the Linux operating system--plans a strong drive into mobile and embedded computing in coming months, sources said Wednesday.

    "There is massive CNET's Linux Centerinterest in Linux on next-generation handhelds like (Compaq Computer's) iPaq and other high-performance handheld devices," said one source. "SuSE is planning to use this as its entry point into the embedded market."

    The source said that SuSE will use handheld computing as a springboard to reach other areas where software is embedded into hardware and used to power myriad devices. The source also said that SuSE is likely to look for help getting into handheld computing.

    "The key factor for the success of such a project is a solid business model around it and a strong strategic partner to get things started," the source said.

    "SuSE, in the past, hasn't been one of the leaders in the embedded market. They're probably listening to what an awful lot of people have been saying, that trends are converging and there's a lot of opportunities for open-source software," said Dan Kuznetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC, alluding to the convergence of wireless technology and handheld computers.

    Linux has become a successful high-end operating system in recent years, but it has yet to make a major impact on the desktop market. And it has barely started in handhelds.

    The personal digital assistant (PDA) market is dominated by the Palm OS and Microsoft's Pocket PC.

    Nevertheless, Kuznetzky said Linux is an attractive alternative for manufacturers. Linux is developed under a license that gives any company the right to view and alter its source code, and Kuznetzky said that's a bonus for embedded developers. He said that it is also appropriate because it is easy to modify and is suited to running server-side applications.

    Only a few manufacturers have come up with handheld computers packaged with Linux. Samsung unveiled the Yopy in May 2000. Established manufacturers including Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are, however, reported to be developing hardware designed to run lightweight versions of Linux. Kuznetzky suggests SuSE could have a difficult time making up this lost ground but cannot afford to ignore the mobile market any longer.

    In contrast with other leading Linux distributors, SuSE has so far held back from developing for the embedded space. Lineo, a subsidiary of Caldera, has been big in this area, and Red Hat also has a significant stake in embedded computing. According to a survey carried out recently by LinuxDevices.com, SuSE holds a 9.5 percent share of the embedded market.