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VA Linux seeks profits on programmer site

VA plans to install and run sites for companies that want to have a collective programming system for their own programming efforts.

VA Linux Systems originally developed SourceForge, a Web site for open-source programmers, as a way to save money. Now it has become a way to make money.

VA started SourceForge to make it affordable to house open-source projects--collective programming projects such as the Linux operating system, in which the underlying programming instructions are shared freely.

Now VA will install and run miniature SourceForge sites for companies that want to use the system for their own collaborative programming efforts. Agilent Technologies, a large spinoff of Hewlett-Packard, is the first subscriber to the service, called SourceForge Onsite, said VA vice president of strategic planning John Hall.

"It's absolutely a strategy to grow our customer base into the Fortune 500," Hall said. VA is interested in this demanding but lucrative customer segment and believes their need for collaborative programming tools will be VA's foot in the door.

The software has its origins in a cost-cutting move at VA.

"Early on in the company, we were...hosting a lot of open-source projects--Web hosting, mail servers, bug tracking," Hall said. "We felt this was a very important way to establish a relationship with the open-source community.

"It got to be very expensive. We had a lot of (systems administrators) supporting guys in the field supporting hosting services."

To consolidate, VA created SourceForge, a site unveiled in January that hosts thousands of open-source projects and even more contributing programmers.

VA's competitors include OpenAvenue and Asynchrony. Sprint PCS is using OpenAvenue's Oasis software for its own collaborative development projects.

SourceForge Onsite contributes CNET's Linux Centerto VA's effort to make money other ways than selling servers running the Linux operating system--a clone of Unix that's been embraced by hardware companies with much bigger research and marketing budgets than VA. VA hopes to stay a step ahead of the likes of IBM or Dell Computer by capitalizing on connections to and expertise with the open-source world.

According to IDC, VA is the No. 4 Linux computer seller in terms of unit sales. The SourceForge Onsite work will contribute to VA's professional services revenue, Hall said.

SourceForge itself is an open-source software package. Though VA employee Tim Perdue leads the effort, about half the core developer team is from outside the company, Hall said.

The fact that outside programmers improve SourceForge so it works better for them helps VA's SourceForge Onsite project as well, he added.

"Because VA has a strong relationship with the SourceForge community members, and they're working to advance SourceForge for their own use, we're in a strong position to see SourceForge evolve more rapidly out than other proprietary technology out there," Hall said.

A side benefit of SourceForge is that the site's popularity among programmers has helped make the service visible. "SourceForge.net is doing a lot to market the SourceForge Onsite service for us," Hall said.