Two key messages are being repeated here at LinuxWorld Expo: Linux has a bright future, but it needs to be easier to use before it can move into consumer markets.

With a variety of vendors trying to make open-source operating systems easy to use, it's questionable which, if any, company will lead the race to take Linux to the desktop.

There also is the question of how many of the start-ups in the race will make money, considering that they are inclined, as part of the open-source movement, to give products away.

Contenders for the lead seem to be emerging, with top vendors offering support.

One possible candidate appears to be Eazel, a member of the newly formed GNOME Foundation. Eazel takes some of the principles and guidelines established by the tech-enlightened GNOME leaders to make using Linux on a PC easier than might have been previously imagined.

Founded by members of the original Apple Computer Macintosh team, the GNOME project began three years ago as an effort to create a forum for developers working on Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

Eazel uses the file managing system Nautilus, along with several Internet applications, to try and make Linux-based systems more user-friendly. (See Linux, UNIX Desktop Unity Sought.)

The company has also written code for a graphical shell intended to make a Linux-based OS look and feel similar to Windows.

In the initial release of the Eazel software, due by the end of September, a suite of services should be available, including file management applications, Web-based file storage, and an early version of a software catalogue.

As the project progresses, Eazel hopes to provide users with an extensive set of automated file backup and file synchronization functions, in addition to an expanded version of the software catalogue.

Both Compaq and Dell have shown interest in the GNOME project and Eazel's improvement of the user interface. The two companies have voiced plans to use a later version of Eazel on their open-source based machines.

The final release of the user interface is scheduled for January of next year.