Linux Crews Close Ranks

4 distributors collaborate; pose challenge to Red Hat.

The move last week by four Linux developers to create a unified distribution promises a new era of standardization for the open-source operating system and could help drive it further into the enterprise.

Caldera International Inc., Conectiva S.A., SuSE Linux AG and Turbolinux Inc. announced the development of a new code base for enterprise servers called UnitedLinux, which will include components from each companys distribution. Each developer plans to sell UnitedLinux under its own brand and bundle value-added features, such as clustering, and other software.

While the move bodes well for Linux customers, it is a shot across the bow of leading Linux distributor Red Hat Inc.

John Alberg, vice president of engineering at Atlanta-based Employease Inc., an application service provider that delivers human resources applications and runs Red Hat Linux on its application servers, said the initiative should further enhance Linux in the eyes of major software and hardware manufacturers, ISVs, and application developers.

"The fact that there will now be two large distributions will create competition while preventing the industry from fragmenting, and thats good for all of us," Alberg said.

But some users and analysts said it appears the four vendors are ganging up to erode Red Hats dominance in the enterprise space, a notion the four developers denied.

"While its a good thing to get everyone pulling at the same rope, its a bad thing if the goal is to gain competitive advantage against the dominant player, in this case being Red Hat," said Mike Prince, CIO at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., in Burlington, N.J., expressing concern UnitedLinux could split the Linux community.

Dan Agronow, vice president of technology for Weather.com, part of The Weather Channel Enterprises Inc., of Atlanta, said having two big distributions will continue to drive innovation.

"It is unlikely to split the Linux community, which really couldnt be any more fragmented than it is now," Agronow said. "Users will just line up behind one of the two distributions."

UnitedLinux is expected to be released in the fourth quarter and will support IBMs eServer product line, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 32-bit and forthcoming 64-bit Athlon and Opteron platforms, as well as Intel Corp.s X86 32-bit and Itanium processor platforms.

Taking the lead role of product integrator will be SuSE, said Gerhard Burtscher, CEO of the Nuremberg, Germany, company. As such, SuSEs engineering team will be responsible for the development and quality assurance of the final product.

The base product for UnitedLinux will be SuSEs Enterprise Server, with technologies and business products from the other vendors being added in. There will not be a branded UnitedLinux consumer distribution at this point, Burtscher said.

Discussions have been held with Red Hat, Mandrake Linux (part of MandrakeSoft S.A., of Paris) and Sun Microsystems Inc. about participating in the UnitedLinux initiative and will continue. Caldera CEO Ransom Love said all the parties have been "receptive and interested."

Officials at Red Hat, of Raleigh, N.C., however, said they knew little about the initiative before last weeks announcement. At this point, company officials said they see little reason to join. "We are getting application support in spades, and this is not addressing a problem we have," said company Vice President Mark de Visser.

The four vendors also intend to target Windows and Solaris users. But Peter Houston, senior director of Microsoft Corp.s Windows Server Group, in Redmond, Wash., said users should consider how long it will be before each major hardware manufacturer tries to isolate itself and its customers from the others. "Is this just like starting over with another flavor of Unix?" Houston asked.