Red flags pop up when four linux distributors form the UnitedLinux group without the most widely used version of the operating system: Red Hat Linux. Is Linux condemned to go down the path to fracture traveled by previous Unixes?
So far, theres more marketing gloss than technological substance to this initiative. Second-tier players Caldera, Conectiva, SuSE and Turbolinux should get a boost in profile through a shared brand. And theyll also get lower development and testing costs as a bonus.
The effort does, however, place a good deal of importance on a back-in-the-shadows standard: the LSB (Linux Standard Base) specification. LSB is one of the key initiatives that Linux distributors, hardware vendors and ISVs have put together to fend off the "Spirit of Forks Past."
LSB defines in detail the API calls, library files, system utilities, software distribution formats and file layouts compliant Linuxes must have.
Applications that run on one LSB-compliant Linux can be run on any LSB-compliant system, and staff trained on one can be immediately productive on any other. Distributors can still add their own extras, but LSB ensures that these changes cant hold user applications hostage.
UnitedLinux 1.0 will be LSB-compliant. Red Hat is a member of the LSB group and has committed to being LSB-compliant, but company executives have been lukewarm in their support. Red Hat executives must endorse and support LSB wholeheartedly.
This is a critical moment for Linux. The combination of Linus Torvalds setting overall direction and LSB filling in the fine print will keep Linux together. But sans LSB, there is danger of fragmentation.
With all vendors building on a firm LSB foundation, each can seek to earn the confidence of customers by providing technical knowledge, documentation, responsiveness and add-on technologies that meet customers strategic needs.
That should be the Linux way.