Hewlett-Packard will step out on its own and begin selling its own 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 said customers such as telecommunications companies are looking for a more secure version of Linux that could run on their Web servers, according to an HP representative.
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 $US3,000 per server and begin shipping the product next week, according to the HP representative. The operating system is built around version 2.4 of the Linux kernel, other HP officials here said.
HP's version of Linux will come with a "virtual compartment" that helps prevent unauthorized 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.
One analyst wasn't surprised by HP's move and said 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," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at International Data Corp. (IDC). "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 said.
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 said.
If the government or other customers start to show interest in HP's product, IBM and Compaq would likely develop a similar offering, Kusnetzky said.