Open-Source Developers Cheer New Linux Base Standard

The Free Standards Group's updated standard will improve Linux code portability and interoperability, developers say, and reduce the worry of platform fragmentation.

The Free Standards Group will announce on Tuesday the availability of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) 2.0, and that this standard has the support of almost all global Linux distribution vendors.

The Linux Standard Base is developed and maintained by the FSG and Version 1.1 was first released in January 2002 at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York. At that time, the Free Standards Group said the move would "allow true interoperability between the multitude of Linux distributions and also facilitate better internationalization capabilities."

The new 2.0 release includes a new application binary interface for C++ to improve code interoperability, which will give software vendors the ability to port their applications to Linux in a cost-effective manner and should see an increase in application choice for end users.

"Thousands of applications are written in C++. It is the most popular programming language in the world," Jim Zemlin, FSGs executive director, told eWEEK on Monday. "We had to add it to the LSB so that those applications can take advantage of the benefits of the LSB."

LSB support for 32- and 64-bit hardware architectures has also been added to Version 2.0, including for the IBM PowerPC 64, S390 and S390X platforms and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron chip. It also supports Intel Corp. 32-bit and 64-bit architectures.

The new version also updates some of the basic specifications and implementations underlying LSB, such as adding support for Single Unix Specification 3.0. LSB 2.0, which will be available on Tuesday from the Free Standards Group site, also includes test suites and a development environment, a sample implementation of a complete LSB-based distribution and developer documentation.

Major companies involved in the Linux community, including AMD, Conectiva S.A, Dell Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel, Mandrakesoft, Miracle Linux Corp., Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux, Progeny Linux Systems Inc., Red Flag Software Ltd., Red Hat Inc., Sun Wah Linux, Thizlinux Laboratory Ltd. and Turbolinux Inc., have also all pledged to support the standard and, thereby, to prevent the fragmentation of Linux as happened with the Unix operating system, Zemlin said.

The Linux vendors would start writing to this specification "starting immediately, but the process will take several months for all the distributions to certify depending on their release cycles. Also, all distribution vendors have agreed to write to the standard," he said.

Distributions that complied with the LSB would be interoperable with application software written to the standard. "This is crucial for the on-going success for Linux as it simplifies the development and porting of applications by ISVs and guarantees end users will not get forced behind a closed operating platform," Zemlin said.

The LSB specification addressed one of the "most pressing issue facing Linux today: fragmentation. Industry leaders have rallied behind the standard and pledged their support to prevent this from happening," Zemlin said.

Asked whether the LSB standard was in itself enough to prevent fragmentation of Linux, Zemlin said that while past attempts had not been particularly successful in avoiding fragmentation of the marketplace for Unix systems and providing a single healthy and reliable ecosystem for software vendors, the LSB specified an Application Binary Interface (ABI), a position mid-way between a source-level interface standard, such as POSIX, and specifying a specific run-time implementation, such as OSF/1.

"The advantage of such an approach is that it specifies the minimum necessary to assure true application portability—namely the binary interfaces. Providers of the LSB run-time environment may choose any implementation they wish, as long as they provide the necessary binary interfaces," he said.

In other words, the LSB obeyed the old adage, to "do the simplest thing possible, but no simpler," Zemlin said. The LSB standardized that which was necessary for binary application compatibility, but did not over-constrain the run time environment. "Indeed, it would be possible for a non-Linux system (such as Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris or Net/Free/Open BSD) to provide a certified LSB run-time environment," he said.

Linux vendors, developers and solution providers all seemed to agree.

Jon "Maddog" Hall, the executive director of the Amherst N.H.-based Linux International, said that, as a developer, having to port his application to two different Linux distributions was "one distribution too many."

"The way of assuring that every distribution has all the applications it needs to be successful is through specifying and applying a cross-distribution, cross-application, neutrally-determined standard. The LSB provides that specification. Without this, we are no better than the proprietary Unix systems of old," he said.

Karen Bennet, the vice president of applications and tools at Red Hat, said the Raleigh, N.C. firm was pleased to support the Linux Standard Base as ISVs and developers needed clear cut standards.

"This will result in an increase in applications for the Red Hat Enterprise platform and Linux as a whole. The LSB and the Free Standards Group help balance the needs of enterprise customers, ISVs and Linux vendors and will continue to keep Linux open and strong," she said.

Chris Zhao, the acting president of Red Flag, the leading provider of Linux in China, said the LSB was essential for the continued growth of Linux both in Asia and globally.

Finally, Martin Fink, the vice president of Linux at HP, said that the FSG and LSB helped ensure that vendors adhered to the core ideals of Linux, such as freedom, compatibility, and open environments.

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