Funeral services were held Wednesday in New York for Dr. Frederick H. (Rick) Berenstein, co-founder, chairman and former chief technology officer of Xandros and an entrepreneur instrumental in convincing Wall Street of the financial viability of the open-source software business. Berenstein died Tuesday at his New York City home from brain cancer. He was 59.
Berenstein was an early investor in companies such as Ximian and CodeWeavers and was co-founder of Linux incubator Linux Global Partners Inc. He was a vocal proponent of FOSS (free and open-source software) in the Eastern investment community and, in the late 1990s, was able to persuade a number of deep-pocket investors to put their money into open-source software.
“Dr. Berensteins passing will not affect the operations of the company in any way,” a Xandros Inc. spokeswoman told eWeek.com. “As his illness progressed, he had turned over his responsibilities to others in the company.”
Xandros CEO Andreas Typaldos told eWEEK.com that “fortunately, Rick laid a solid foundation by assembling a talented management and Linux team over the last two years that has been executing on his initial vision. Our public profile … will remain the same. Xandros has always been a team effort and collective vision, not centered around a particular person.”
Xandros makes a Linux-based desktop aimed at both corporate and home users that runs Microsoft Office, among other software. In December 2004, the company announced a deal with low-end computer maker Microtel to supply a fully loaded (with Xandros Desktop software ) Linux computers and sell them via Wal-Marts online store for $200. Xandros markets it own software through its own Web site and in retail stores.
Founded in 2001, the company acquired the Linux desktop technology originally developed at Corel. Linspire (formerly Lindows) sued Xandros in 2002, alleging the company and its financial backers failed to repay a $750,000 loan. The companies later settled out of court.
Berenstein, whose doctorate was in psychiatry, was known as a candid speaker and savvy dealmaker. Regarding the Linspire legal dispute, Berenstein was quoted in IT Managers Journal: “OK, Ill tell you about Linspire. When they were Lindows, they wanted to build an operating system in which the user would simply log in as a root user all the time. They couldnt get anybody to help them; nobody thought that was a good idea. They came to us, and we said, sure, well help you, but we also dont think its a good idea. So we gave them our Mercedes engine, and then they built a jalopy around it.”
Berenstein was a familiar figure in the Linux community as the culmination of a career in both computing as well as science beginning with his involvement with computers in 1965, when he started programming in Fortran on an IBM 1620 mainframe computer.
From 1978 to 1982, Berenstein was responsible for the international banking operations of the Israeli-based Independence Mortgage and Development Bank. In 1985 he designed and programmed the airline reservation system for Californias TWA Express Carrier. Subsequently, from 1988 to 1990, Berenstein was CEO of Progressive Solutions, a software firm specializing in DOS task-switching technology, which was sold to Symantec Corp. in 1990.
Berenstein was also an investor and director of Personics Corp., the first-to-market company with a mainframe-to-PC data program, and was instrumental in that companys merger with DataWatch Corp., a NASDAQ-traded company, in 1992.
“His passing is a sad moment,” software analyst Robin Bloor, a partner at Hurwitz Associates, told eWEEK.com. “Xandros looks reasonably mature from a product perspective, but is not yet well established in the market. The value proposition is there, but this is a difficult market to gain traction in. They are going to miss him, theres no doubt. I doubt if his loss is going to destroy the prospects for Xandros, but it will probably slow the momentum they have. What Xandros surely needs is a deal maker.”
Current CEO Typaldos has been performing that role since Berenstein became ill two years ago.
“Beyond Ricks vision, inspiration and leadership, which our industry, our company and all of us will miss, I will personally miss his example of quiet courage, and his indomitable will and determination,” Typaldos said in a tribute on the companys website. “It is that courage and will, which enabled him to fight his illness, that also inspired Rick to push Linux forward, ahead of most other people, through visionary investments in companies such as Ximian, CodeWeavers, and finally Xandros.
“His belief in the inevitability of Linux, from the days when I first met Rick in 1999 as one of his founding group of investors in Linux Global Partners, the Linux incubator that he had co-founded with William Jay Roseman, was infectious and hard to argue with,” Typaldos wrote. “There simply will not be another like him.”
Ming Poon, Xandros vice president of software development, told eWEEK.com that “Ricks death affects us all personally. At the same time, since Rick brought a new CEO and team, who set course and processes, it is now a matter of execution. But we wish he were here to share in our future achievements.”
Berenstein was proud of the Xandros Desktop (formerly Corel Linux), which he said had come a long way since the company bought it in 2001. Ottawa-based Corel, which still markets its Corel WordPerfect office suite and core graphics applications, sold $12 million of Corel Linux products when it was released in 2000, but was hindered by a lack of Linux applications and other factors, he said.
“We think that they had the right direction, and we took that direction and put more millions of dollars into it,” Berenstein said.
Berenstein was a practicing psychoanalyst from 1971 to 2000. He lived in New York City and is survived by his wife, Robin, and by his three daughters and three granddaughters.
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