IBM Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and NEC Corp. said Wednesday they have agreed to develop a computer operating system for corporate use by enhancing the open source Linux operating system.

“The companies, implementing a shared common plan to help Linux mature, will work together with the Linux community to develop various open source projects,” the companies said in a joint statement.

This is the first time the four firms have teamed up in the information systems business. They plan to spend about 20 billion yen to 30 billion yen on the project and have it ready by 2003, IBM spokesman Takafumi Nagabuchi said.

“By dividing up the work and improving efficiency, we hope to be able to complete the project in around two years, roughly half the time usually needed,” the spokesman said.

The Linux operating system was developed as a free, open alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows and Apple’s MacIntosh.

It is the fastest growing server operating system in the world, going from from 1,000 users in 1992 to 9 million last year.

Part of its popularity is that it allows developers to manipulate source code to meet particular needs.

The improved system will be useful in the banking and retail sectors, where processing of complicated data is required, an official at one of the four companies said.

As with other operating systems based on Linux, the new system will be about 30 percent cheaper than existing systems for corporate users, he said.

A total of around 500 Linux experts in the four companies will share the work of improving functions such as locating problems and computer breakdowns, as well as accelerating data-processing performance, he said.

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