MP3.com founder preps Linux OS to run Windows apps

A new company founded by MP3.com Inc. founder and former Chief Executive Officer Michael Robertson is looking to bridge the gap between applications available for the open-source Linux operating system and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows -- a gap many Linux advocates blame for slow uptake of the OS on desktop computers.

The new company, called Lindows.com Inc., will offer in the fourth quarter of 2001 a Preview Release of a Linux-based OS, dubbed LindowsOS, that can run both Linux and Windows applications.

Linux is a open-source operating system, which means that its source code, and that of the vast majority of its programs, is freely available for inspection and modification. The operating system is also bound by looser legal restrictions than many other operating systems and available for free by download or for a fee on CD-ROM.

LindowsOS will be built around a Linux core but will have the ability to run many Windows applications out of the box, just as if they'd been written for the OS, the company said in a statement Tuesday. Previously, Linux users had to rely on WINE, a program that allows Windows applications to run, albeit not speedily or perfectly, on Linux systems. Windows programs running under LindowsOS will perform at speeds equivalent to the speed the same programs would see under Windows, the company said.

With the Preview Release, the company hopes to generate feedback that will help it improve the operating system before its official release, Lindows.com said.

Some skeptical feedback on Lindows.com's initial announcement came from Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research for International Data Corp., a market research firm based in Framingham, Massachusetts, who doubts that the LindowsOS will see significant adoption. IDC is owned by International Data Group Inc., which is also the IDG News Service's parent company.

"I believe that technically it can be made to work. I also believe that it will be difficult to convince people (to use it)," he said.

Companies and end users will likely take the simpler of the two options and run Windows applications on Windows, he said.

There are a host of companies -- such as Citrix Systems Inc. -- that offer Linux users the ability to employ Windows applications, but those companies run Windows programs on Windows computers and provide a way for Linux users to open them in a separate space on the desktop, thus making the whole process simpler, Kusnetzky said.

"It's just easier if I'm going to run Windows applications. Why not run it in Windows?" he said. "It's applications that consumers want, not an operating system."

Lindows.com will also have to figure out a way to document all the Windows interfaces, information that Microsoft has not completely released, he said. Without these interfaces, software cannot be guaranteed to function properly, he said. Though work in this area is being done by WINE, it is far from complete, he added.

Because Windows programs will not necessarily run perfectly under LindowsOS, Lindows.com customers will require technical support and that support may not be provided, he said. If, for instance, Microsoft Office does run properly under LindowsOS, Microsoft might not provide users with technical support as Office is only supported to run under Windows and the MacOS, he said.

"Is this company (Lindows.com) claiming that it will support any Windows application that comes along" Kusnetzky asked.

If not, "people will take the simple of the two options -- Windows," he said.

Lindows.com officials were not immediately available to comment. Robertson founded MP3.com in 1998, which fueled the popularity of the MP3 digital music file format by providing users access to a host of music services. Robertson continues to work for MP3.com, which was acquired by Vivendi Universal SA earlier his year, in an advisory capacity.

The final version of the LindowsOS will cost less than US$100 and, like all Linux OSes, a single copy of the operating system will be able to be legally installed on multiple computers, Lindows.com said. The LindowsOS will require an Intel Corp. Pentium or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processor, 64M-bytes of RAM and a 1G-byte hard disk.

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Sam Costello

Computerworld
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