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Linux looks set to make major moves outside its traditional server role and into the set-top box and consumer electronics arenas. According to a report on CNet, AOL has lined up the open source OS to power an upcoming Internet access appliance. Meanwhile, Sony is talking to Linux distributor Caldera about embedding the OS into TVs, hi-fi and videos. The AOL project derives from the company's 'AOL anywhere' strategy -- to provide access to its online service through as many channels as possible, rather than rely on PCs. As competition tightens, not least through the increasing number of free Internet access services, AOL needs to look at alternative Internet audiences, and households that don't own a PC must surely rank highly on its list. Linux is attractive because not only is the kernel fairly compact and free, but there's now plenty of Linux programming expertise out there. It's also not owned by Microsoft, which, in the light of the two companies' opposite stances at the DoJ antitrust trial, may be appealing to AOL right now. That said, Linux isn't the only option open to AOL. In addition to Be's moves to push its BeOS as an information appliance operating system (see Be IPO based on set-top box role for BeOS), there is of course Sun's JavaOS. And since Sun is fairly close to AOL at the moment, thanks to their deal over Netscape, AOL could be persuaded to take that route. However, CNet's sources reckon Compaq is in the running to produce AOL's box, and since it's already believed to be working on a Linux-based set-top, AOL is as likely to accept Compaq's choice of hardware and OS. At the same time, Linux distributor Caldera confirmed it has begun talks with Sony on the possibility of embedding the Linux kernel and user interface software into a variety of consumer electronics devices. Sony has been interested in the Internet as a content delivery system, either on a 'pay per view' basis or as a download mechanism, an interest that combines its consumer electronics business with its music and video publishing arms. The company clearly doesn't want the PC to remain the only way of connecting consumer electronics devices not only to the Net but to each other. Linux offers a powerful basis for that kind of Internet standards-based connectivity. At the same time, Sony is believed to have selected Linux as the basis for its upcoming PlayStation II console -- it's already the company's software development platform of choice -- which itself is likely to be offered as an Internet access and consumer electronics connectivity system as a games machines. PlayStation II is due to ship before the year is out, probably with a full-scale launch early September. ®

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