Many in the computer industry accept that Microsoft cannot be shifted from its top spot in desktop operating systems. One reason is the many software applications written to run on Windows and, as even Linux booster and Red Hat chief executive Bob Young points out, computer users care less about operating systems than about the software they can run on top of them. Linux is the Unix-based open-source operating system that has its fans among systems administrators and hobbyist programmers who like being able to see the source code and tinker to their heart's content. But for most of the world's PC users, Linux has been too intimidatingly technical, in addition to supporting far fewer software applications than Windows, which runs on about nine out of every 10 desktop computers. Apple's OS runs on most of the rest, and Linux can be found on the remaining few. With the introduction later this year of mass-market versions of software which allows non-Windows users to run Windows software, that equation may change. One program is Wine 1.0, which has been under development by volunteer programmers since 1993 and acts as a middleware layer between the Linux OS and Windows programs. The other is LindowsOS, which combines Linux and Wine into one package that will sell for about US$100. It is being created by a team of developers in San Diego headed by Michael Robertson. He founded music-download site MP3.com, sold it to Vivendi Universal last autumn and almost immediately announced that he would turn his attention to a new company called Lindows.com. A test version of LindowsOS has been released but end-users may have to wait a few more months for the final version. In a note to Lindows.com's mailing list subscribers this week, Mr Robertson admitted the release still had bugs. 'We're not ready for public reviews, but a small group of our Insiders who have agreed to test early versions of our product on non-critical computers gained access to an early, very rough version of our technology,' he said. 'For some Insiders, Sneak Preview didn't work at all and we're working with them to make sure it does work in the future.' The focus will be on making Lindows compatible with office productivity applications and new users should first 'try Microsoft Office 2000 programs, Lotus Notes and other business tools'. Test versions of Wine 1.0 have been available over the Internet for some time and will be released in a final version within the next three months. Lindows drew the ire of Microsoft, which filed a copyright infringement suit against Lindows.com, but Mr Robertson seems to enjoy the David and Goliath battle matching his start-up company and the software giant. Some of the features the Lindows team promises are installation in under 10 minutes and the ability to run the software either side by side with Windows or completely on its own. As of press time, Lindows representatives were not available for comment and it is not known whether the program will be available in Asia.