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The developers behind the popular open-source distribution of MEPIS Linux are expanding its reach beyond the Linux fan base to the business world with a new business desktop, server, and its first channel and support partner, Technalign Inc.

In June, Morgantown, W.Va.-based MEPIS LLC, a commercial spin-off of the volunteer organization that developed MEPIS, will be releasing SimplyServer, an operating system designed to enable SOHO (small office and home office) users to set up a small server with the same ease as the popular SimplyMEPIS Linux distribution.

The company also plans to release two business products in June: BusMEPIS Desktop and BusMEPIS Server.

Later, MEPIS will be porting its Linux operating system to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Athlon 64, PPC (PowerPC) and the IBM S390 mainframe platforms.

The first product from was a commercial version of the open-source MEPIS Linux, with some support added to make it into a more packaged product called SimplyMEPIS.

MEPIS Linux itself has quite a following. During the last three months, it has been the third most popular desktop Linux on DistroWatch, a site devoted to making it easy to download all Linux distributions.

This makes SimplyMEPIS more popular than such well-known Linuxes as Red Hat Inc.’s Fedora and Novell Inc.’s SuSE Linux.

Part of SimplyMEPIS’ popularity is doubtlessly because of its exposure in the well-regarded introduction to the Linux book “Point & Click Linux!”

Another factor is that MEPIS’ founder, Warren Woodford, has focused on making a distribution that he says “emphasizes ease of use, removes the fluff and provides only the basic applications.”

MEPIS LLC is now trying to move into the fast lane with its new distribution and support partner, Technalign of Pennsauken, N.J., which will become the manufacturer and master distributor of SimplyMEPIS and other upcoming MEPIS Linux products.

Technalign is no stranger to the Linux market. It is the main U.S. partner of Mandriva, the company that resulted from the merger of Linux companies Mandrakesoft and Conectiva, which operates in France, Italy and the United States. Technalign, while continuing to support Mandriva at the high end, has said it will focus on MEPIS offerings for small to medium-sized businesses and sales to individuals.

Technalign will offer MEPIS boxed products bundled with commercial applications such as Win4Lin, a program that enables users to run Windows applications on Linux; Versora Progression Desktop, an automated Windows-to-Linux migration program; and Computer Associates International Inc.’s BrightStor ARCServe enterprise backup program.

Dianne Ursini, CEO of Technalign, said her company is focusing on MEPIS because “MEPIS appears to us to be one of the best Linux distributions today.” In addition, “We believe MEPIS Linux is an easy yet versatile distribution to use, both out of the box or with modification, particularly for people moving from a Microsoft Windows environment,” she said

“Our intention with Mandriva at present is to work with them on the enterprise side, including with the CA ARCServe bundled products” Ursini said.

Technalign will be doing more than just distributing MEPIS’ Linux systems. The company will also be selling it through its approximately 230 retail stores and its solutions provider network. End users can also purchase through Technalign’s resellers and OEMs.