May 9, 2000 6:00 PM PDT

Lynx name change reflects Linux shift

Lynx has changed its name to LynuxWorks in a move that symbolizes the pre-eminence of Linux over Lynx's proprietary operating system in the company's future.

Lynx has for years been one of the major companies--alongside WindRiver and QNX--selling proprietary operating systems for non-PC computing devices as diverse as network hardware, car airbags, and mobile phones. Now, bolstered by an investment of more than $20 million, LynuxWorks is working to incorporate its version of Linux for this "embedded" market.

Changing names, though, will take less time than changing the company's business model. It will be at least two or three years before the company's revenue from Linux surpasses that of the proprietary LynxOS, chief executive Inder Singh said in an interview.

Although changing names is a paperwork headache, it's worth it, Singh said. "It emphasizes the strong commitment we have" to Linux, he said. "We had to make it clear we were not playing games."

LynuxWorks can take a lesson from VA Linux Systems, a maker of computer hardware that formerly was named simply VA Research. The move was made just in time to capitalize on the Linux hype that carried VA to a record price jump in first-day trading.

Changing from Lynx to LynuxWorks is a message aimed primarily at programmers, Singh said. "I'm sure it won't hurt us with the investor community, either," he added.

LynuxWorks is in the middle of a race to see who can capture as much early market share as possible in the emerging market for Linux in "embedded" devices. Among its competitors are Red Hat, MontaVista and Lineo, the recent recipient of a $37 million investment.

Embedded Linux has potential, analysts say, because of the appeal of royalty payments lower than with traditional proprietary embedded operating systems. However, embedded Linux is still young and most agree it's not a good choice for very small devices with tight constraints on memory or processing power.

Companies are taking different approaches to the royalty question. LynuxWorks and MontaVista won't charge per-unit royalties. Lineo will but argues that it will be less expensive than with other embedded operating systems.

All the companies will charge for their software development tools and CNET's Linux Center technical support--a traditional practice in the embedded realm. Two weeks ago, Red Hat released its own embedded Linux programming tools, with a price tag starting at $200. Lineo and Lynx also expect to include higher-level proprietary software for paying customers.

LynuxWorks believes its two-OS strategy will appeal in particular to customers who need to use both LynxOS and the company's version of Linux, called Blue Cat, Singh said. For example, telecommunications equipment makers could use LynxOS for low-level input/output chips while the device would run Linux at a higher level.

Over time, LynuxWorks hopes to add improvements to Linux to make it work more like traditional embedded operating systems, Singh said. For example, the company wants to give Linux better "hard real-time" capabilities, meaning devices will be guaranteed to respond to a specific situation within a rigidly defined period of time. Real-time operating systems are used to control devices such as factory robots or airplane wing flaps.

Lineo bases its product on a version of Linux from its sister company, Caldera Systems, which sells Linux for desktop computers and servers and has a stake in Lineo. MontaVista based its product on Red Hat's Linux. LynuxWorks investors include Intel, Motorola and TurboLinux, a Caldera Systems competitor.

 

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