UnitedLinux to take software public

The first public beta of the combined Linux distribution will appear later this month, but it will have Red Hat's dominance to contend with

UnitedLinux said on Wednesday that it would release a preview version of its business-oriented Linux distribution to the public in the last week of September, the first chance most potential customers will have to evaluate the results of the combined effort. UnitedLinux is based on SuSE Linux's enterprise server, but the public beta will reveal how technology has been integrated from the group's other three partners: Turbolinux, Conectiva and The SCO Group (formerly Caldera). Version 1.0 of the distribution is expected in November. The company also said it will name a general manager for the US UnitedLinux team next week. The software is tailored for the enterprise, and as such its main competition will be Red Hat's Advanced Server; both are designed to downplay Linux's traditional do-it-yourself flexibility in favour of rock-solid stability. However, UnitedLinux will deliver more for the money than Advanced Server, promised Gregory Blepp, SuSE's vice president for international business and a member of UnitedLinux's board. "What Red Hat is doing is taking the box, charging $600 (£380) more and saying, 'Now you can call us for 12 months'," Blepp said. "The product is almost the same, not 100 percent, but very close." With SuSE's enterprise server, and UnitedLinux, much more resources have been sunk into customising the software the way that hardware vendors such as IBM and HP want it to be, he said. Blepp said that UnitedLinux members have all now agreed to use practically the same software, down to the installation and configuration tool -- which will be SuSE's Yast2. Originally, the members were planning to customise each version of the UnitedLinux, but customers said that this made no sense, according to Blepp. Differentiation will now mainly be down to branding, with each partner deciding how prominently to feature the UnitedLinux brand. In Germany, where SuSE is well known, SuSE said it will place less emphasis on UnitedLinux branding, but may "put a bigger UnitedLinux sign on the box" in markets such as the UK. The response to the first UnitedLinux beta, released only to large UnitedLinux customers, has been positive, Blepp said. Recent shifts with UnitedLinux members
The SCO Group and Turbolinux have not altered the group's direction, he said. The SCO Group changed its name from Caldera to reflect its main Unix business, but this does not appear to have lessened the company's commitment to UnitedLinux, and will probably strengthen the company, Blepp said. "Why name a dog a cat if it is not a cat?" he said. Turbolinux sold its Linux business and name to SRA, a Japanese company, but this should increase the company's focus on its core market in Asia, Blepp said. SuSE's vice president for development, Markus Rex, said that the regional expertise of companies such as SuSE, Conectiva and Turbolinux would help lure big business customers to UnitedLinux. "Now we can start going into corporate clients by the front door, making Linux a part of their strategic business plans, instead of a couple of dollars because the administrator thinks it's an interesting alternative solution," he said. "A lot of clients have been waiting for this."

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