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[aclug-L] AOL considering Linux device, sources say

[aclug-L] AOL considering Linux device, sources say

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To: aclug-l@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [aclug-L] AOL considering Linux device, sources say
From: sohel@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 09:25:32 -0700 (PDT)
Reply-to: aclug-L@xxxxxxxxxxxx

This NEWS.COM ( story has been sent to you from  

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   Hi Ppl,

Check this story out

Guess it's good news for the Penguin.

AOL considering Linux device, sources say
By Stephen Shankland
May 10, 1999, 12:30 p.m. PT

America Online is considering the Linux operating system as one option for 
running an inexpensive Internet access device, according to sources   familiar 
with the project.   

   One source said America Online has approached Compaq Computer as a possible  
 manufacturer of a Linux-based AOL access device. Independently, Compaq is   
developing a television set-top box based on Linux, sources said.   

   As Linux spreads down into    more consumer-oriented devices, it becomes a 
better and better way for America Online and others to wean themselves of 
dependence on Microsoft Windows. But this is by no means a "Microsoft 
killer"--AOL, while exploring options for getting users to its site, isn't 
likely to abandon Windows altogether. The company's chief concern remains 
delivering content to its subscribers rather than the underlying technology 
subscribers use.  

  In general, AOL believes that "no one company or technology" has established 
the path to broadband service, chief financial officer  J. Michael Kelly said. 
"There are multiple sources, like wireless, DSL, and cable solutions. We hope 
to gain access to all of that," he said.  

  "The feasibility of [an AOL-Linux project] is highly possible," said 
International Data Corporation analyst Bill  Peterson. With an increasing 
number of applications running within a Web browser, the "underlying operating 
system becomes less and less important," he said.  

  However, Sean Kaldor, also of IDC, was more cautious about using Linux in  
smaller devices. "The advantage is zero cost per unit. The disadvantage is that 
it's big and will require some engineering" to fit into small devices. The 
balance will be in choosing between paying for an operating system already 
designed for small devices and paying for the larger memory requirements of 
Linux, he said.  

  Both agreed that bypassing Windows gives AOL an advantage, ensuring more  
control over their product, lowering the cost of the device, and improving  
AOL's bargaining position in dealings with Microsoft. "They are big enough  
where [Microsoft and AOL] are kind of titans of the industry," Kaldor said.  


  Although AOL declined to comment on the subject, sources said a Linux thin   
client would give AOL an inexpensive Internet connection device that would   
boot straight into an AOL browser. The user, though, would never need to   know 
that Linux was underneath.   

  AOL isn't alone in considering Linux. Consumer electronics powerhouse Sony is 
in "initial discussions"   with Linux seller Caldera   Systems about "how they 
can embed Linux into some of their consumer   line of products," said Benoy 
Tamang, vice president of marketing at   Caldera Systems. "Everyone's turning 
rabid looking in at the possibilities."   

   "It makes perfect sense," said Drew Spencer, vice president of engineering   
at Caldera Systems, a company   that sells Linux. "Linux is at its core an 
operating system built for   communicating with the Internet. Internet 
networking protocols are an   intrinsic part of the operating system."   

   Spencer declined to comment on whether Caldera Systems was working with   
AOL on such devices, but he did say "there are a lot of pilot programs   right 
now" investigating Linux clients. "In eight to 12 months, we'll   likely see 
some deployments beginning to happen."   

   AOL has declared its intention to provide access to its services from   
non-PC devices through its "AOL Anywhere" plan, a plan that pushes AOL out   of 
the PC realm where Microsoft   enjoys its dominant status.   

      Linux currently has a stronghold as an operating system used for servers  
 and programmers' workstations, but Linux leader Linus Torvalds and others   
have expressed interest in pushing it into cheaper consumer devices as well   
as more powerful servers. At present, The Linux Store and The Computer 
Underground are marketing   sub-$500 computers, and Corel is   developing an 
easy-to-use Linux version it says will power sub-$300 computers.   

   Red Hat could be another key player in AOL's Linux plan, according to one   
industry source. AOL inherited Netscape's investment in Red Hat, and the   
source said Red Hat and AOL have discussed the idea.   

   "This is a really compelling idea," said John Stracke, a Linux developer,   
former Netscape employee, and now chief scientist at eCal. "[AOL] could do it 
pretty   easily." With a limited-function box, including a version of Linux 
whittled   down to only what's needed, "they could do it for about $300," 
Stracke said.   

   Memory a key concern   One of the critical issues for such a device is how 
much memory it   requires. Analysts have noted that in the consumer space, 
hardware   resources are at a premium, and browsers such as Netscape Navigator 
and graphical   interfaces such as Xfree86 for Linux   take up many megabytes 
of memory.   

   "If you look at [Netscape] Communicator or Navigator with Java   support, 
it's quite large, particularly when running the Java virtual   machine," 
Spencer said. "It's a function of how small you can make a   browser that's 
still full functional enough to take advantage of all the   new features on the 

   Spencer said Linux isn't good right now for the smallest of computing   
platforms such as 3Com's PalmPilot.   But it could be made to work in a 
handheld computer such as those currently   based on Microsoft Windows CE, he   

   Linux is good because of price and robustness, said Erich Forler, product   
device manager for Corel's forthcoming Linux edition. "When price becomes an  
issue, the price of   the operating system becomes an issue," he said. John 
Wise, chief   information officer of The Linux Store, said Windows is second 
only to the   hard disk as the most expensive component in his company's 
sub-$500 computers.   

   Forler worked on Corel's development of the Netwinder Linux machine,   
diminutive boxes now under the control of, formerly known as Hardware 
Computing Canada. Corel and top   Linux seller Red Hat jointly developed   a 
version of Linux that work on the Netwinder, a computer based on Intel's 
StrongARM chip.   

   NetBox a model?   French hardware maker NetGem has   taken an interesting 
Linux step, deciding to switch from its own operating   system to Linux for its 
inexpensive set-top boxes for Net access, an   arrangement similar to 
Microsoft's WebTV. "Linux provides us with a more   stable platform, a faster 
platform, and a more open platform," said David   Ostroff, NetGem's business 
development director.   

   Though it doesn't currently support U.S. television standards, NetGem's   
NetBox machine seems to match AOL's plans. The NetBox is designed only for   
Web browsing, email, and electronic commerce activities such as banking,   and 
when it's turned on, it shows whatever splash screen the seller   desires. 

   NetGem's NetBox, which is in beta testing now and will be available by the   
end of June, has limited hardware, Ostroff said. For example, it doesn't   even 
have a hard disk. It uses either telephone lines or a cable modem to   connect 
to the Internet, and because it comes with an Ethernet port, it can   be used 
to give a PC a high-speed connection as well.   

   But it does have some serious possible partners. European electronics   
giant Grundig, for example, sells a   version of the NetGem's current products, 
and other European companies   distribute the product to home users in exchange 
for a monthly Internet   access fees, Ostroff said.   

   "We are confident the Linux box is going to provide the kind of speed and   
stability customers are looking for," Ostroff said.'s Dawn Kawamoto contributed to this report.  



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