Computer Giants Unite on Linux Lab

The community of mostly volunteer programmers that has built Linux into a formidable operating system is getting some help from computer industry giants.

IBM, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and NEC Corp. are announcing today that they will create a laboratory with an investment of several million dollars where programmers can test Linux software on the large computer systems that are common in the corporate world.

The lab is expected to open by the end of the year near Portland, Ore.

High-End Enterprise Hardware Access

Linux is an “open source” operating system that anyone can modify, as long as the modifications are made available for free on the Internet. It has a devoted following among programmers, who collaborate on software projects over the Web. These software engineers can usually only test software on their own desktop computers, part of the reason Linux is now rarely used on larger computers.

“The Open Source Development Lab will help fulfill a need that individual Linux and open source developers often have: access to high-end enterprise hardware,” said Brian Behlendorf, creator of the open source Web server software Apache.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the head of IBM’s Linux group, said the lab would help companies run hardware from different vendors together, as well as let run “clusters” of computers working as one.

The four main sponsors said they will contribute several millions of dollars to the project.

The lab is also backed by smaller companies that specialize in Linux products, like Red Hat Inc., Turbolinux Inc., Linuxcare Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc., as well as Dell Computer Corp. and Silicon Graphics Inc.

The founding companies said the lab will be run by a nonprofit organization that will select the software projects that gain access to the lab in an “open, neutral process.”

Linux is seen as an alternative to proprietary operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows and Apple OS. Its backers say the publicly available source code, or software blueprint, makes it more flexible and reliable.

Analyst Bill Claybrook at Aberdeen Group said the project sponsors are backing Linux because it gives them a chance to influence an operating system for their computers.

“These companies see that they can play a much more important role in developing Linux than they can in, let’s say Windows, because Microsoft pretty much decides what to put in Windows,” he said.