HP to sell homemade Linux

Hewlett-Packard will step out on its own and begin selling a homegrown version of Linux, focusing on creating what it called an ultra-secure version of the operating system instead of relying on partner distributions as it has in the past.

          Hewlett-Packard (HP) will step out on its own and begin selling a homegrown version of Linux, focusing on creating what it called an ultra-secure version of the operating system instead of relying on partner distributions as it has in the past.

          The open source Linux OS has enjoyed wide adoption on servers and workstations with a number of vendors such as Red Hat selling their flavors of the OS to customers. HP and other major hardware sellers often bundle a version of Linux outsourced from Linux OS specialists with their products.

          HP, however, has decided to develop an in-house version of Linux -- named HP Secure OS Software for Linux -- with a special focus on making the operating system more secure. Linux has been championed as a highly scalable operating system, but HP customers such as telecommunication companies are looking for a more secure version of Linux that could run on their web servers, says Roberto Medrano, general manager of HP's internet security division.

          The company will make its Linux distribution available on its own servers as well as non-HP hardware that passes qualification tests. HP will also offer a host of consulting services around the operating system to help make sure customers take advantage of the security features in the product.

          HP will sell its version of Linux for about $US3000 per server and begin shipping the product next week, Medrano says. The operating system is built around version 2.4 of the Linux kernel and comes with other software including the Apache web server.

          HP's version of Linux will come with a "virtual compartment" that helps prevent unauthorised communication between programs, networks and files. This feature should lower security risks for users managing information with different sensitivity levels on the same server.

          The new software will also come with a detection system for alerting administrators about hacking attempts and a containment feature that locks a hacked program, preventing it from damaging applications or launching other attacks, according to HP.

          While the core of HP's version of Linux will be released to the open source community, many of the security features including the "virtual compartment" technology will remain in HP's hands only, HP officials in Chicago say.

          One analyst wasn't surprised by HP's move and says it could prove a boon for the company, at least in the short term, as it tries to sell computers and software to customers that place a high priority on security, such as government agencies.

          "HP has clearly taken a step ahead of some of its rivals," says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at International Data Corporation (IDC), based in Framingham, Massachusetts. "There is a chance that lead will give them an advantage in government markets, but if it does, it is momentary at best."

          Rivals like IBM and Compaq have the engineering know-how to turn around a similar, security-focused version of Linux in fairly short order, Kusnetzky says.

          The US National Security Agency (NSA) has already developed its own secure version of Linux which it made available to the open source community. That could provide the basis for a project undertaken by IBM or Compaq, the IDC analyst says.

          If the government or other customers start to show interest in HP's product, IBM and Compaq would likely develop a similar offering, Kusnetzky says.

          As well as government users, HP expects ISPs (internet service providers), telecommunication companies and large e-commerce companies to drive adoption. The company already has sold 300 licences for the software to an e-commerce company, Medrano saus, although he declined to identify the company.

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