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Novell eyes move into embedded Linux

The company considers adding more weight to its shift to Linux by developing, partnering or buying into the OS for devices such as cell phones.

SALT LAKE CITY--Novell, which sells Linux for servers and desktop computers, is considering a move into the market for embedded computing for devices such as cell phones and vending machines.

The company is thinking over a choice of developing its own technology, signing a partnership with another embedded Linux company, or buying a company outright, Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman, said in an interview at the company's BrainShare conference here. "We're going through that analysis now," Stone said. "Linux has a huge opportunity."

The open-source operating system is most popular for use on powerful networked systems called servers and is growing in use on desktop systems, but several companies hope it will also spread further into the embedded realm. Linux is already used in some handheld computers, cell phones, wireless networking devices and personal video recorders.

Novell is deliberating the best approach for embedded Linux, Stone said. It could aim for devices that have screens and are more like conventional computers, for example, or for "real time" devices such as factory-floor robots that often don't have displays.

In February, No. 1 Linux seller Red Hat signed a partnership with embedded computing power Wind River Systems to tackle the market. Among smaller companies in the area are MontaVista Software, TimeSyS, FSMLabs and Applied Data Systems.

The possible move indicates how ambitious Novell is in the Linux market, which the Waltham, Mass.-based company entered by buying Ximian in 2003 and SuSE Linux in January.

For years, Novell sold another operating system, NetWare, which has steadily dwindled in use after losing out to Microsoft Windows. The company is using Linux as a future replacement for its customers and business partners, moving NetWare's network services such as file sharing and printing to the OS.

Beginning with NetWare 7, due by the end of 2004, Novell will include a copy of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server in a package called Open Enterprise Server. In the future, NetWare will always come with Linux, Novell Chief Executive Jack Messman said in an interview here.

To help customers make the transition, the company is bringing Novell network services, such as file sharing, to Linux. For example, the company is in the process of creating a Linux version of its Novell Storage Services (NSS) software.

"It is our intention to move that direction," Stone said, referring to a Linux version of NSS.