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Xandros - the Linux company that isn't

'Users don't care about Linux'

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Where the rice is

There is, it would seem, plenty of rice to be had from doing custom Linuxes and application stacks for OEMs and ODMs that are building all kinds of computing devices. Enough to support some 200 employees and development offices in San Diego (from its Linspire acquisition last July) and Taipei. That's twice as many employees as the company had this time last year. (Xandros, which is headquartered in New York, is privately held and does not give out its financials).

Smith says that a big part of the value that Xandros can deliver to OEMs and ODMs comes from that Linspire distro and its Click 'n Run (CNR) application library. The customized OSes that Xandros is making are better than Windows XP, are branded Xandros, and are designed for small 7- to 10-inch screens, unlike Windows XP, where you can "hardly see anything but the Start button."

And that CNR technology has allowed Xandros to create custom, fully-branded application download stores for its OEM and ODM customers, which lets them sell and support add-ons to their devices - perhaps where the real profits come from with smart phones and smartbooks.

This sure doesn't sound like the same company that, presumably, bought Linspire to take on Windows on the desktop last summer because it seemed pretty clear that Windows Vista was not the be-all, end-all. And Smith is quite proud of the business that Xandros has done in such a short time thanks to netbooks. "We have the largest paid installed base of consumer Linux users," boasts Smith. "We've got millions of these things out there, and while Ubuntu has a lot, too, most of theirs are free."

Xandros is particularly pumped about smartbooks, which is the name for very inexpensive computers that are cheaper than netbooks - something on the order of $150 to $200. But providing all the things that modern computing users need (like access to the Web and office automation and entertainment software working over 3G networks) and not trying to engineer for things they don't need (such as running Windows XP). Which is why Xandros was demonstrating its custom OS and app stacks running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon and Freescale's Babbage ARM variants as well as Intel's Atom processors at the Computex event.

Xandros is also announcing a partnership with Synchronoss Technologies, which created the automatic activation of AT&T's 3G network on the Apple iPhone, to bring that same capability over to netbooks running Xandros Linux. If end users don't want to know they are running Linux, they also don't want to have to figure out how to log their netbooks and smartbooks into 3G and 4G carrier networks or have to take the devices into a reseller store to do it or mess around with dongles. They want to turn the box on, pick a carrier, and log in to the network.

Windows-based PC and laptop users want the same instant-on access to the Internet, and that is why Xandros created Presto, which loads fast and gives Windows users a way to turn on a machine and access a small Linux instance on their machine. Presto started shipping in late April and has Web, email, Skype, and RealPlayer as well as access to Windows files - all without having to boot Windows.

In effect, Presto puts a software-based netbook inside your PC, and it runs as an executable on Windows XP or Vista, so it doesn't mess with Windows. At $19.95 a pop, Presto is a much easier sell, it would seem, than trying to convince Windows shops to load Xandros Professional Desktop on top of Windows and forgetting everything they knew about Windows and having to learn the Way of Linux.

Xandros is still selling and supporting its Scalix email server and Bridgeways systems management tools, just like it is still offering its general purpose variant of Debian for desktops and servers. ®

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