Staten Island, N.Y.-based Element Computer Inc. does this by combining its own Linux distribution, ION OS; its own line of PCs; technology from NeTraverse Inc.s Win4Lin; and a licensed copy of Microsoft Windows 98 SE.
The Linux component is built on top of the Xandros Desktop Framework, which in turn is based on Debian Linux.
Unlike other commercial Linux distributions, ION OS is customized for its particular PC. For example, drivers are provided only for a specific computers equipment.
IOS OS is available only with Element Computer PCs. It is not available as a standalone binary distribution. The source code, as is true of all GPL (GNU General Public License) programs, is freely available from Elements ftp servers.
The Windows compatibility part of the operating system, WinLauncher, is based on NeTraverses Win4Lin, a program that enables Linux users to run Windows 95, 98 or ME as a virtual machine.
In the case of Win4Lin, which is a standalone product that will work with most Linux distributions, users must also have a copy of Windows 9x or ME. In eWEEK Labs tests, W4Lin 5.0 Workstation Edition, the latest version, proved to run Windows applications well.
But Element gets around requiring users to have their own copy of Windows by including a licensed copy of Windows 98 SE as part of ION OS.
Still, as Element admits on its site, "WinLauncher technology isnt for gamers and video hardware acceleration is not supported, and its not low-level driver compatibility. Only hardware compatible with IONized devices is accessible through WinLauncher. Since all Element Computers are 100 percent IONized, your hardware works out of the box under the Windows programs, too."
Even so, Element is guaranteeing that such popular Windows office programs as ACT!, Adobe Photoshop, QuarkXPress, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Peachtree Accounting, Quicken and QuickBooks—as well as Microsofts own Access, Excel, Outlook and Word, versions 95 to XP—will run on ION OS.
Moreover, Element claims that since Windows programs run in a "sandbox," ION OS is immune to all Windows viruses. The company also claims that most vertical-market Windows 95 and 98 programs will run under ION. This would let a school keep running its proprietary grading and test-creation software, or a hospital its HIPAA-compliant Windows software, while ridding themselves of insecure Windows programs.
In addition to Windows compatibility, ION OS-powered Element computers enable users to copy and paste between Linux and Windows applications on the same desktop, and the computers come with file system, drive and printer integration. In short, the company tries to present users with a single, hybrid Windows-Linux desktop.
"ION represents a gigantic leap forward for vertical markets and companies migrating to Linux who need to select Windows-only applications but crave the total cost of ownership, stability and security of ION OS Linux," Ed Volz, Elements vice president of sales, said in a statement.