October 23, 2001 1:35 PM PDT

Start-up creating Linux-Windows combo


Michael Robertson, CEO of Lindows, touts Linux/Windows hybrid. (4:49)

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Hoping to succeed in a difficult task, a software start-up plans to sell a version of Linux designed to run popular Windows programs.

Lindows.com, a 20-person San Diego company led by former MP3.com Chief Executive Michael Robertson, plans to sell a preview edition of the software for $99 this quarter, with version 1.0 coming in early 2002.

The software is based on years of labor devoted to the Wine project, an open-source effort to mimic the commands that Windows programs use. Lindows adds proprietary software with improvements such as making fonts appear better or software install more easily, Robertson said in an interview.

One Lindows advantage is being able to run Microsoft programs without having to pay for Microsoft's operating system. A copy of Lindows, unlike Microsoft's new Windows XP, may be installed on more than one computer, Robertson said.

The spread of Linux has been hobbled by the lack of mainstream software, such as word processing program Microsoft Word or Intuit's Quicken personal finance package. Linux has been relegated largely to a technically savvy niche.

Lindows hopes a broader software base will help boost the Linux operating system, a 10-year-old clone of Unix. "We're trying to bring Linux to a whole community that hasn't been able to use it," Robertson said.

But taking on Microsoft's core territory is difficult, to say the least. Two companies, Corel and Eazel, have failed in their attempt to make Linux suitable for mainstream use. Linux leader Red Hat has had comparative success by sticking to the server market, where Microsoft is on weaker footing.

And Wine, while enjoying some success--for example, in providing a Linux version of MusicMatch's digital music software--hasn't caught on as a mainstream project.

Robertson acknowledges there are challenges.

"It is a very complex thing to do," he said. However, "in 18 to 24 months, we think we can have really robust support for a great deal of all Windows software out there."

The company has several million dollars in funding from Robertson and a previous MP3.com investor he declined to name. The money will enable the company to focus on writing the software instead of scrambling for funding, he said.

 

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