VA Linux shows its software side

In its first major effort to reinvent itself as a software company, VA Linux Systems Inc. Tuesday unveiled a new version of its collaborative software, SourceForge 3.0 Enterprise Edition, which allows companies to build communities for managing internal development projects.

Born as a vendor of hardware systems running the Linux operating system, VA Linux has since shifted its business to selling software that enables technology companies to mimic the development process traditionally used by open source developers, in which information and ideas are shared freely on the Web.

The technology behind SourceForge 3.0 turns two years old this month, the company said. It was first unveiled as a Web community for open source developers to collaborate on projects, and remains in that role on the Internet at http://www.sourceforge.net. SourceForge 3.0 is a packaged version of that technology that organizations can run on their own servers.

The company turned to that software as its main source of revenue as the market for its Linux hardware deteriorated. It has now stopped selling the hardware products. "As our business around Linux servers began to decline, and our customer base began to go away, we looked around the company and saw that we had a product in SourceForge that had a demand," said Larry Augustin, chief executive officer of VA Linux.

In the past two years, the SourceForge Web site has grown to encompass about 250,000 developers collaborating on 28,000 open source projects, the company said. It is also one of the most popular sites that make up the company's Open Source Developers Network (OSDN), which includes several developer communities and news Web sites.

"As the SourceForge Web site grew, we found that companies were facing many of the same problems with their own software development internally that the open source community was facing on the Net ," Augustin said. Those included constant changes in the groups of software developers working on projects, difficulty getting access to source code and the need for managers to oversee development projects.

"Companies started asking us if we could build a SourceForge for them to manage projects internally," Augustin said. "About a year ago, we started doing that."

One of VA Linux's first customers was Agilent Technologies Inc., a spin-off of Hewlett-Packard Co., which used the software to develop software projects internally. HP's embedded software group also has become a customer.

In its newest version, SourceForge 3.0 Enterprise Edition includes expanded capabilities for senior management to monitor and record the progress of development projects. There are also added search features, which can locate a wide range of items, including bug reports, PDF (Portable Document Format) files and text documents that are stored on a SourceForge server.

Those new features come in addition to previously available ones, such as a source code control system, bug tracking, online discussion forums and Web-based mailing lists.

Initially, the software will only run on a Linux server and work with Oracle Corp.'s Oracle8i database software. The company plans to roll out versions of SourceForge to run on other platforms "very shortly," Augustin said. The first of those will be a version that runs on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris server operating system.

The software will be available worldwide, but will only ship in an English-language version. Pricing starts at US$700 per seat per year. Customers are required to purchase a minimum of 30 user licenses.

In addition to the changes in its product line, VA Linux is also working to shed other aspects of its former business by changing its name. Shareholders will vote on Dec. 5 whether to rename the company VA Software Corp., nixing Linux from its corporate identity. "It makes sense. Our business is no longer focused around Linux," Augustin said.

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