July 27, 2008

Customer demand adds Linux to industrial computer line

Author: Jack M. Germain

Glacier Computer is offering two Linux distributions as options on its Everest
PCs. The company announced this month it is offering customers a choice of IGEL Linux or Fedora Linux distributions.

The rugged Everest PC line targets customers in the warehouse, freight, distribution, and field service markets. The Everest model is an
all-in-one industrial computer deployed into harsh environments containing extremes of temperature, vibration, shock, or moisture. The most common
installations are on forklifts, dock doors, manufacturing floors, and construction vehicles. The Everest has a color display and touchscreen.

Customers now have options that include Linux, Windows XP Professional, and Embedded XP.

Discovered need

Glacier officials first noticed a potential market for Linux about a year ago when a sales agent for IGEL Technology approached with
software-related questions about running the Linux distro on forklifts. IGEL didn't sell customizations for that purpose on its thin client and
desktop hardware line.

Putting a computer on a fork lift is commonplace, according to John Geary, vice president of sales and marketing for Glacier Computers. IGEL was
looking for a stable system to run its version of Linux. Other Glacier customers needed different features and were willing to consider Linux. "We
were getting a smattering of calls for supporting a Linux distribution without a lot of bells and whistles," Geary says.

That demand from customers for other options led Glacier to consider Fedora Linux as one of the companies pre-installed options.

User education

The problem Glacier faces with offering Linux is that many people don't know much about IGEL Linux in particular or the extent of Linux use in
general in computers used in industry. "I bet half of our customers using the Windows platform simply run emulation software and browsers to access
inventory," Geary says. So Glacier is adjusting its marketing strategy to get out the word about the addition of Linux to its rugged computer line.
Those plans include retooling its Web site to prominently display the Linux options.

Geary admits that Glacier has a fair amount of marketing to do in selling the Linux options. But the company is sure that those efforts will pay
off. "We see sales growth coming with the option for Linux," he says.

Adding Linux to the company's operating system offerings expands the flexibility and application potential of the Everest unit, according to Don Berch, sales manager for Glacier Computer. "Linux can be installed once with fewer upgrade needs, and the installation and management is completed
in one action. Overall software costs are lower versus Windows."

Browsers available include Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer, which runs on the
Linux platform under Wine.

IGEL primer

IGEL is not in the industrial PC line, so this is a good marriage, according to Jeff Kalberg, thin client solutions product manager for Computer Products Corp., which resells IGEL hardware.

"A need among industrial users exists for an industrialized device running Linux. My company and others haven't had a solution for that. We tried to do it but finally deferred to Glacier," says Kalberg.

IGEL Linux is pretty much its own distro, according to Kalberg. It is not built from Debian, SUSE, Ubuntu, or any of the other established Linux versions. The company built its OS out from the Linux kernel. This specialized Linux OS uses a compression technology IGEL developed to compress a complete Linux OS into a tiny flash memory container. The company released its first commercial thin client in 1998.

Then IGEL developed a read-only flash Linux file system. The combination of these core technologies produced a new Linux-based embedded OS. Among other uses, the product runs TV Internet set-top boxes, OEM thin clients, network appliances, Linux/Unix workstations, and embedded computer systems for industrial and residential applications.

This ability to embed the operating system eliminates the need for hard disk drives. That requirement can better serve some industrial users. The feature sets available in IGEL Linux differs from those in the Fedora distribution. One major difference is that Fedora does not compress. Another is that Fedora is not a commercial distribution, which may limit the level of support for some industrial applications.

Specialized uses

Adding two inherently different Linux distributions brings more flexibility to users of rugged computers. The push from customers for Linux options in this line shows significant interest that could lead to greater Linux adoption in this vertical market, according to Glacier officials.

Glacier's customers reflect a wide range of industrial rugged computer needs. These users represent industries such as warehousing and logistics, manufacturing, construction, police, and public safety.


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