Get your red-hot Linux apps

Hoping to warm up the chilly Linux desktop market, Chilliware says it is launching the first of more than 100 desktop Linux apps
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Starting next week in retail stores across the United States, four brand-new Linux desktop applications will make their debut. Linux desktop apps? While there aren't many such animals out there right now, Chilliware is hoping it can warm up the market in a hurry.

The ten-month-old Los Angeles-based software vendor has a somewhat unorthodox business plan. It is using an open-source operating system, Linux, as a jumping-off point for selling non-open-source applications. And while most companies are targeting the Linux server market with their wares, Chilliware is plunging headlong into the unchartered Linux desktop space.

"We're the only company out there doing 100 percent Linux-for-desktop applications," said company chief executive Kenneth Eppers.

"Only our operating system [Chilliware's own Linux distribution] will be available under GPL [GNU General Public Licence] and will be free. Everything else we do will cost money," continued Eppers. "Open source is a great service, but if you just do open source, it's hard to make enough money to pay everybody."

Starting Monday, Chilliware will begin shipping its first few products. Besides its own version of Linux aimed at the desktop market, the company also is fielding Nexxus, a contact manager, Mentor, a documentation wizard, IceSculptor, a desktop publisher, and Mohawk Apache, a server configuration product. All of the applications will cost $79 or less, said Eppers.

Chilliware's target is small and midsize businesses. It will sell its products through all the major retail stores, including Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, and CompUSA, starting next week. Starting 15 November, Chilliware also plans to make the products available for download from its own Web site, as well as from other online stores, such as Linuxmall.com and Buy.com.

But Eppers said he isn't done yet. Next on his plate: a full desktop office suite, a la Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect Office, for Linux. He said he and his staff of 117 are writing a suite from scratch and have opted not to use the recently open sourced StarOffice code as a starting point. Eppers said he expects to launch the suite early next year.

"We have browsers, other Net applications, and more client and server applications all under consideration. In the next year alone, we expect to be shipping 16 new products. And we'll provide 24/7 tech support," Eppers said.

That's a pretty lofty goal for any company, even one the size of Microsoft or Oracle. But Eppers said he believes he can pull it off. And with Microsoft's recent $135m investment in Corel Software as proof in his mind that desktop Linux needs a new champion, he said he's ready to try.

"It really hurt Corel to take Microsoft's money because now Microsoft has them where they want them," opined Eppers.

He said he believes that Microsoft will compel Corel to drop its Linux work, although Microsoft has said nothing of the kind. In fact, Corel has offered to Microsoft its services in porting Microsoft's .Net foundation technologies to Linux.

As for Microsoft, Eppers doesn't see the software maker as an enemy. In fact, he said he'd like to do for desktop Linux what Microsoft has done for Windows.

"We've talked to different people from Microsoft three or four times," Eppers said. "Microsoft has a lot of geeky guys interested in playing with Linux at the developer level. And they are interested in trying out our products."

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