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For months, technology commentators have been wondering if Linux can survive on the desktop, especially since GUI startup Eazel closed its doors in May. This month, Dell's U.S. operations announced it would stop bundling Linux on PCs, and just this week, Linux gaming company Loki Software filed for bankruptcy.
But the small group of coders mostly working on Redmond Linux in their off hours believe they can improve on the Linux desktop experience, despite all the bad news.
"Our goal, simply put, is the ever-elusive Linux desktop," says Rick Collette, v.p. of marketing and coder for Redmond Linux, and founder of the embedded deepLinux project, now merged with Redmond Linux. "How are we going to reach that goal? We have all the time in the world, something many other companies don't have. See, we have no infusion, seed, venture, or other funding, and no one to answer to for it. I pump what little money I have into keeping the infrastructure going, and saving here and there so that we can produce CDs."
This bare-bones approach to building a Linux business seems to be working for Redmond Linux, named after the city Cheek and closed-source software giant Microsoft both call home. (He gives a couple of other reasons for the name, too: "I expect this software product to cater to, and learn from the experiences of Windows users," and "I wanted a name that people could remember, and that would be distinct.")
The project, started in June 2000 when Cheek just "started coding," now has five core people and a handful of volunteers through the Internet. In April, Redmond Linux shipped its beta 3 version. The distro's installer is based on Caldera's Lizard, but the rest of Redmond Linux is built pretty much from the kernel up, Collette says.
"The bottom line on Redmond Linux is that we're focusing on the product itself before we focus on the finance," Collette says. "We're all working for free because we love what we're doing."
The distribution has several goals, including, of course, "ease of use for people used to Windows," Collette says. The Redmond Linux coders also want seamless filesystem integration with other operating systems on a network, and a full suite of working applications.
Collette calls a lack of applications "the stopping point for most everyone" who's used Linux in the past. "We've made sure that you can import documents from the popular office suite(s), that you can read PDFs, that if you go to a Web site that has Real Audio, you don't need to download anything to play the media stream, and that other little things like Flash work right after installation of the OS," he says.
Redmond Linux also will include an application update tool similar to Windows Update, and a Game Pack of the most popular games for Linux, Collette says.
"Games are a major shortcoming for Linux," he adds. "Although, with companies like Loki, and the thousands of free games available, I think that Linux cannot be ignored for long as a gaming platform. In preparation for the inevitable turn towards Linux for the game producers, we've begun creation of the Game Pack for Redmond Linux. This pack will come with several of the more popular games, a slick installer, and merge itself with with RL Update program to insure delivery of the latest games and their libraries."
He adds, "I keep harping on the fact that we're updating libraries because for most people, they see this game ... think to themselves, 'I have GOT to play that,' then start the long trek of finding all of the libraries the developer used, discover a few that were not listed in the INSTALL file, get fed up, and quit trying. We want people to have fun with Linux. We don't want people saying, 'well, Linux sucks because it took three hours to download all this stuff, and I don't know how to compile it, and I'm frustrated.' "
Collette says a server OS is on the horizon for Redmond Linux, as well as a professional-looking package for the distro. "What's next? We dip deeper into our own pockets to get a box and manual made," he says. "Then we go into production. Once that happens we'll have a LITTLE extra time to start looking for financial help."