With the open-source "Linux" operating system as
its lever, start-up Emperor System Software believes it can wedge its way into an
interactive-television market that has been dominated by bigger players so far.
While the likes of Microsoft Corp., Liberate Technologies,
OpenTV Inc. and others garnered more buzz at the Western Show, Austin, Texas-based Emperor
quietly got attention from scores of cable operators and set-top-box makers that were at
least willing to explore an alternative for their interactive platforms.
"It really was an overwhelming response," Emperor
president Dan Lee Vogler said following the show.
Emperor is pitching two products: "Studio," Linux
software used for headend-based systems such as servers, video-on-demand arrays and
routers; and "LAVA," combining its TV-Linux real-time operating system with a
Java application-software layer.
Emperor's case is built on Linux, which will make it
easier for developers to create one product that runs on all digital-cable boxes and other
platforms, such as direct-broadcast satellite, terrestrial digital broadcast and Internet
TV-Linux runs on the five central-processing-unit platforms
used by 95 percent of interactive set-top makers, Vogler said: Pentium-class, UltraSPARC,
StrongARM, PowerPC and MIPS.
The architecture also provides Java application-programming
interfaces for the eight major interactive-TV standards being used worldwide, including
OpenCable, Digital Video Broadcasting, DAVIC (Digital Audio/Video Interoperability
Council), ATVEF (Advanced Television Enhancement Forum) and JavaTV.
While acknowledging that the cable industry has moved
toward open, interoperable platforms through its OpenCable initiative, Vogler noted that
this still left out the satellite and terrestrial-broadcasting industries -- major markets
for interactive applications.
"By enabling the possibility to do all eight
[interactive standards], we will create an environment in the marketplace to get involved
with this next level of cohesive interactive television. By creating one form of program,
it automatically and inherently makes its way into all marketplaces," Vogler said.
Emperor so far has won deals to work with Houston-based
Broadband Magic, which plans to produce a TV-Linux-based set-top, and with graphics-chip
creator Sigma Designs Inc.
Linux has drawn increasing attention in cable as
manufacturers and operators look for ways to cut costs -- Linux licensing fees tend to be
cheaper than those for Microsoft Corp., Liberate or other "open" systems based
on proprietary code -- and to foster development of more interactive applications.
"More and more broadband-service providers are
choosing Linux servers as part of their Internet-services platforms," said Jeffrey
Campbell, chief technology officer for Canada-based Core Networks Inc., which announced
Linux support for the latest version of its own "CoreOS" broadband-provisioning
and management system last week.
"We have been working with Linux for over a
year-and-a-half, and ongoing support and enhancements for Linux-based systems are a
fundamental part of our product road map," Campbell added.