September 28, 2004

Xybernaut tries on Linux for flexible fit

Author: Jay Lyman

Not that it was outgrowing its proprietary duds in the form of Windows XP
Embedded, but sometimes one needs to put on something new to feel in touch
with the latest fashion. So, Xybernaut is donning Linux for its latest wearable computer product.

The Virginia-based mobile/wearable computer pioneer has for years offered
its Atigo line of system-on-wearable-straps and headsets with Windows
operating systems, but the latest Xybernaut gear announced recently adds
considerable flexibility by running a home-stitched version of Linux.

Rebuilt kernel did the trick

By stripping down the Linux kernel and building it back up, Xybernaut
developers were able to give the Linux Atigo special network and mobile
powers, the company said.

Xybernaut Vice President of Corporate Development Mike Binko said the
Linux-based Atigo's OS is tweaked for network management, power consumption,
and supporting multimedia content.

"It's kind of a souped-up PDA with full screen, WiFi, USB and other
stuff," Binko said, adding Xybernaut does not have a name for its wearable
Linux OS.

While the "mobile-enhanced version of Linux," Binko's suggested branding
for the customized Linux OS, faces the same kind of Windows domination of
the desktop world, it has the same advantages of flexibility and
cost-savings in hand or around the waist, he said.

"With Linux as a development platform, it's certainly strong, but
obviously Windows is the preferred platform for most enterprises now," Binko
said. "Linux just gives more flexibility when you strip down the kernel. It
definitely is [easier to customize]."

Although Xybernaut has yet to announce a major deal for the Linux-based
Atigos, the open source operating system and open standards both help
Xybernaut to keep its pricing low, Binko said.

Demand mostly from Europe at this time

While Xybernaut supplies mobile and wearable systems for the biggest
companies in hospitality, roadwork, medicine, and shipping -- including
Hilton and FedEx Express -- demand for the Linux Atigo was coming mostly
from European research universities, according to Binko.

"Many of the universities in Europe have adopted Linux as a development
platform, so it was a natural progression," Binko said, adding that the
addition of Linux comes as Xybernaut matures from orders of 200 to 300 units a
few years ago to today's orders of 1,000-plus devices.

The latest Linux Atigos, according to Xybernaut Chief Strategy Officer
Dewayne Adams, are created using the 2.4.26 version of the Linux kernel,
which is stripped down and rebuilt to serve a mobile worker or company
representative.

"Linux is an OS that has been on our radar screen for years, so it was
naturally something that our product team was interested in working with,"
Adams said. "Our team was very interested in working on a Linux OS version
of the Atigo, as it is a very flexible operating system and afforded us many
options for streamlining many functions; two examples would be network
management and communication."

Not much difference in customization

Since Xybernaut tweaks operating systems for clients regardless of which
operating system is used, there is not much difference in the actual
customization effort involved with Linux versus Windows CE or XP, Adams
said.

The addition of Linux also has given Xybernaut a key new strategy with the open source operating system,
which is becoming increasingly important in the wearable and mobile space,
Adams said.

"Many of our customers and partners -- both commercially and in
academia -- have asked for Linux support," Adams said.

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