Can the LSB Resist Industry Pressure?

The LSB is simple, popular and well-worded. But is it strong enough?

For a few moments, I thought I had gone to the wrong show. Instead of LinuxWorld, recently held in San Francisco, I thought I had stumbled into a Sun show.

First, Sun CEO Scott McNealy was giving the keynote, which filled the hall beyond capacity. Then there was the obligatory press Q&A. I noticed that attendees attire was upgraded from previous years. And, later that evening, there was a roundtable discussion with Suns new software head, Jonathan Schwartz. And Sun founder Bill Joy and McNealy were in attendance!

Sun managed to eclipse any other announcements coming out of the show for three reasons: It announced full support for Linux; Sun officials hinted there might be a Sun-Linux desktop computer in the works; and McNealy spiced the announcements with controversial remarks.

Those remarks centered on the fragmentation of Linux. Speculation on this "fragmentation" has been around for several years, mostly from those who believe the operating system will follow the same path as Unix did. Years ago, I surmised that capitalist interests might begin flavoring Linux enough to cause incompatibilities. Linux proponents, meanwhile, blamed the nasty speculation on Microsoft lackeys and claimed that Windows is far more fragmented than Linux will ever be.

But protective measures are in place to prevent future fragmentation. The one that McNealy cited was the LSB—the Linux Standard Base, a workgroup of the Free Standards Group. Sun affirmed that all its Linux distributions would conform to the LSB, which defines a minimal specification for ensuring that Linux distributions conform to at least some standard.

The biggest reason for supporting the LSB is the general consensus that commonality among distributions is necessary. Eventually, there will be monetary reasons—in other words, if the LSB is successful, no one will want to use non-LSB distributions. Contributors to the LSB are mainly for-profit ventures, including IBM, but also Red Hat (singled out by McNealy as a threat), Caldera and Turbolinux. The latter two are members of UnitedLinux, another group attempting to control the possible fragmentation of Linux.

Capitalist forces will try to pull Linux in different directions. The LSB is simple, popular, well-intentioned and well-worded. Is it strong enough?

Will "sponsor" companies have too much influence over the LSB? Write to me at