October 27, 2006

Moving from Linux to Windows with Elan

Author: Tina Gasperson

Elan Home Systems once used embedded Linux in its home digital music servers. But company executives say issues with digital rights management and platform flexibility led Elan to make a switch to Windows XP Embedded.

With Elan's digital music servers, users can manage and play music collections from many locations within a home using remote touch pads that access the main box. Until recently, the servers ran on embedded Linux. Product marketing manager Rick Gratz says there wasn't really a problem with Linux. "It was very stable." But, he says, Elan's mission is to make its products as "user-friendly as possible." Part of that is giving customers the ability to use and store any type of media. Since Linux has issues with running digital rights managed formats such as Windows Media Audio, the company thought Windows would be a better choice.

"There's so many different places when we were handcuffed into a corner with Linux," says David Moore, product line manager with Elan. "The other thing Linux doesn't do well in a Windows world is things like backup. A hard drive's average life span is three years. If you have a client that is going to spend months getting their music media onto one hard drive, [with Linux] there's not a good way to do a backup without doing a full copy image," Moore says. "That takes a lot of time and it is complicated. People weren't doing it and they lost all of their media. It made it difficult from a manufacturing standpoint."

The two say Windows XPe has also brought additional functionality to the servers, including the ability to import and export music files from iPods, and Web browser access to the server from any networked Windows or Mac computer. "It allows the end user control of the server not just from touch pads but from a PC. We didn't have that with the Linux," says Gratz. Moore adds that with shared folders, users can also drag and drop music from iPods to the server, and vice versa.

Gratz says while Elan hasn't lost any customers over the hard drive backup issues, it is trying to be proactive. "It's still fairly early in the game. We've been selling [the servers] for about four years now. But we didn't want to start losing sales as the hard drives age."

Gratz says Elan will still provide support to customers who own outdated servers. "If that means we end up having to replace a Linux-based server with XPe, we would do so."

As a result of higher licensing fees associated with Windows XPe, the prices have increased on two of the three server models, Gratz says.

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