LinuxOne takes more than a leaf out of Red Hat's book
Linux activist Rick Moen takes a closer look at the controversial distribution
Back in September, The Register reported on the upcoming IPO of a new Linux distributor called LinuxOne. Everyone knows that doing an IPO with nothing to show on the profit front is now commonplace, but LinuxOne appeared to be taking that to its logical conclusion IPO-ing without a product. Since then we've received emails from several sources claiming to have a close knowledge of LinuxOne's business. None of them were in any way complimentary. Last week, we received noted Bay Area-based Linux advocate Rick Moen's first look at a beta release of LinuxOne's distribution. As you'll see, it bears a very close resemblance to a certain Red Hat's Linux release... Some thoughts about LinuxOne beta 0.3 Some readers may recall the sudden appearance of Mountain View, California startup LinuxOne, Inc. on 2 September, with the announcement that that firm had helped MandrakeSoft open development centres in Beijing and Shanghai. That announcement had this to say about the company: "LinuxOne, One Stop for Linux, provides world-class quality UNIX (Linux) software targeted to the server, workstation and home environments and is distinguished by the unchallenged availability of applications and platform support, ease of installation and use, support, and commitment to lead in the development of timely extensions that address the requirements of the market for new functionality that provides stability, security, and usability for the software. LinuxOne expects to become the highest rated supplier of Linux solutions based on packaging, support, and capability worldwide." This was interesting, since none of us Bay Area Linux community folk seemed to have ever heard of the company. It seemed a pleasant surprise, and so many of us checked out its Web site, www.linuxone.net. There we read about its Linux distribution, the LinuxOne OS, which was promised to be available as a beta CD-ROM for $9.95, soon. The initial name for that product was LinuxOpen, but I can no longer find that reference on the Web site -- perhaps Caldera was displeased? The company's Web pages show clear signs of having been developed in Microsoft Word and possibly Front Page. A little checking revealed that the Web site is (still) running a very generic (and very insecure -- they allow Internet access to linuxconf) Red Hat 6.0 build with Apache, connected via a Pacific Bell aDSL line. It's interesting to note that the don't run their own distribution. Further digging revealed that LinuxOne was incorporated in March by Wun C. Chiou, Sr., PhD, founder of NetUSA (formerly Pacific Microelectronics), whose recent lines of business have included unsolicited commercial e-mail. Then, on 22 September, LinuxOne filed for IPO with the Securities Exchange Commission, announcing an intent to sell three million shares at $6-8 each. In the filing, LinuxOne reported zero revenue and a $17,000 operating loss for its initial quarter. Despite this, the firm reports having $150,000 in the bank, apparently from private stock placements. Of the executive officers, none but president and CEO Chiou owns any stock (as reported on the S1 filing). LinuxOne's IPO offering has no underwriters: according to the filing, shares "will be offered for sale by our management" for 180 days with a possible extension for 90 more days. The filing projected 9.2 million shares outstanding after IPO, representing 33 per cent equity of a $73 million market value, assuming an $8 share price. The $8 figure was said to have been "arbitrarily established by us" to raise about $23 million after expenses and "bears no relationship whatsoever to our assets, earnings, book value, or other criteria of value". Commentators soon pronounced LinuxOne's S1 filing virtually identical to Red Hat Software's (except for the lack of securities underwriters). At least one of the Web site's employment opportunities listings is word-for-word identical to a job listing at Red Hat's 'situations vacant' page. Asked about this, LinuxOne declined to return calls. Meanwhile, we've all been waiting to see the promised beta of LinuxOne OS. I've recently received a copy of Beta 0.3, and have been looking it over. Now, I've seen a lot of Red Hat 6.0 for Intel CD-ROMs in my day, and I must say that this one is very nearly a spitting image. At the top level, it has a "LinuxOne" directory instead of a "RedHat" one, but the directory layout and filenames seem otherwise identical. The top-level README file includes the following comment: "All the LinuxOne specific packages come with their sources in the source CD (PowerPack Edition). Please use FTP servers for sources. In the case where you don't have Internet access, Linux-Mandrake can send you a sources archive for very little charge." Browsing through the directory structure, it looks, right down the line, pretty much exactly like Red Hat 6.0. It includes KDE 1.1.1 (and I can't remember whether RH 6.0 included that), and at least one package from MandrakeSoft: MandrakeUpdate-6.0-5.i586.rpm The documentation directory looks familiar: Red Hat Getting Started, Official Red Hat 6.0 Installation Guide, Red Hat Linux 5.9 Alpha Installation Addendum, Red Hat sample "kickstart" configuration, and the standard collection of LDP FAQ and HOWTO documents (packaged exactly as in Red Hat 6.0). The CD's top-level README acknowledges the copyright and trademarks of Red Hat Software and MandrakeSoft, and states that some work is LinuxOne's -- but it's difficult to find any work actually by them. I booted the CD and found myself in what appeared to be the Red Hat 6.0 installer, unchanged except for the word "LinuxOne" globally substituted for "Red Hat", and LinuxOne's URL instead of Red Hat's. Since I didn't really want to sacrifice a perfectly good machine installation, I quit immediately before the installer would have begun unpacking RPMs, but literally could not find anything but Red Hat 6.0, as far as I got. I'll be curious about any reports by people who've looked deeper, but I believe I've personally seen enough. ® If anyone has looked deeper, we at The Register would like to hear from you. Email Tony Smith with your experiences of this curious Linux distribution. A longer version of Rick's study of LinuxOne's distribution can be found over at LinuxWorld
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