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Start-up Uses Open Source Project To Nudge Microsoft Off the Desktop

Start-up Uses Open Source Project To Nudge Microsoft Off the Desktop

Symbio Technologies Inc, a New Rochelle, New York start-up, wants to tear the guts out of your PC, turn it into a diskless thin client and move the compute power to a server, sort of along the lines of that ClearCube is doing with its PC blades, Sun is offering to do with its Sun Rays and IBM has in mind with its new Java-based Workplace 2 scheme aka Workplace Client Technology (CSN No 548).

Symbio's architecture is probably closest to IBM's, which involves Lotus' Workplace middleware, Tivoli's software to centrally administer potentially thousands of clients, WebSphere's Portal software for a single point of interaction and built-in server-managed security and workflow.

It's probably safe to say, however, that Symbio's proposal will work out to be a heck of a lot cheaper than IBM's.

Unlike IBM, Symbio doesn't want to sell you any hardware unless you insist. It says the box on your desk, even if it's a measly 486, can be salvaged and "recycled" into a widget that works at the speed of the server it's hanging off. It doesn't have to be consigned to the chop shop and without any moving part could drone on forever.

Symbio's architecture doesn't even put one of those magic little "black boxes" on your desk to connect your screen to the server. What it leaves in the PC after it rips out the disk and operating system and CD-ROMs - in other words, the motherboard and memory - will do what that box would do, it says. The servers involved aren't proprietary either just bog standard x86 widgets.

What Symbio is selling is the software that manages everything and that software, which runs on a Linux server, is based on a long-running open source project called the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) - a Linux-style Citrix or Windows Terminal Server - that has never been commercialized before.

For all the activity that attracted - and Symbio says it's a very active project - the code that was produced was practically unusable even by geeks, according to Symbio co-founder and CTO Gideon Romm, an Agilent graduate. Starting about two years ago, Symbio started tidying LTSP up and making it into a product.

The effort produced a proprietary Symbiont Management Suite, middleware that retails for $1,300 - or rather a year's worth of e-mail and phone support sells for $1,300. After that, you're on your own, but Gideon, who's called Guy, says once it's up and running, it doesn't break.

It also produced a free Symbiont Workstation Manager, basically a subset of the suite, that's available under the GPL. The mojo will connect thin clients to a Linux server and configure and control them. It includes the look-and-feel of the full-blown management suite.

The suite's job is to manage users and users can work off of Linux or Windows. They don't have to leave their precious Windows apps behind to create a centrally managed system and some long-suffering IT guy doesn't have to trudge from desktop to desktop to update them.

Guy estimates that a 2p Xeon server with SCSI drives and 4GB of RAM can support 50 users. It depends on the compute demands of the applications they're running. With Linux, clustering is cheap, another factor that has to be thrown into the TCO equation. And users can keep their Windows apps while securing their Internet access by replacing IE with a Linux connection via the Symbiont Linux server if they wanted.

Symbio is developing a reseller channel for its widgetry and has collected 14 VARs so far, some of them international sites. It's got maybe a half-dozen sites it supports directly and is glad of the hands-on experience with end users, not to mention the recurring revenues.

How much competition Symbio gets from Red Hat and SuSE remains to be seen. Red Hat intends to fold LTSP into its next 3.0 rev of Enterprise Server and has been active with the LTSP subset known as K-12 LTSP meant for the educational market, a hot prospect for such things. And SuSE has been working with LSTP's project leader Jim McQuillan, Symbio said.

The adoption of LTSP by Red Hat and Novell could, of course, validate Symbio's concept.

Symbio's Workstation Manager can be downloaded at or from SourceForge.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at) or paperboy(at), and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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