Linux Standard Base Takes on Industry Fragmentation

Analysts say a new standard version of Linux should go a long way to raise the platform's chances in the enterprise by improving open-source software's interoperability.

Following the release Tuesday of a new interoperable version of Linux, analysts said the standard should go along way towards preventing a serious roadblock to widespread acceptance of Linux: the fragmentation of open-source distributions.

The Free Standards Group (FSG), in its announcement Tuesday of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) 2.0, said the updated standard will help stymie fragmentation of Linux where other versions may have fallen short.

In addition to shoring up support from a majority of the Linux community, Linux Standard Base 2.0 adds support for C++, as well as six new hardware architectures, all of which help keep Linux from splicing, analysts said.

"Previous versions werent complete," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of International Data Corp.s System Software research group, based in Framingham, Mass. "It covered well enough to be useful, but not enough to prevent people from going around the standard."

Kusnetzky said the Free Standards Group has revamped the standard with Version 2.0 to make it broader and give it further reach.

"In the past, developers have been willing to break code if they find something that works better," he said. This could discourage developers from going beyond the standard to meet their needs, he said, but it remains a challenge.

"Linux is a community of communities, all of whom are driving toward their own independent goals," said Kusnetzky. "But it looks like the FSG has done a nice job of getting the major vendors signed up."

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Free Standards Group officials said developers and vendors will be able to live within this new standard.

"The addition of C++ to the spec itself opens up the ability for thousands of application vendors to certify their apps to the LSB," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group, a San Francisco-based nonprofit standards organization. Those new applications, rather than needing proprietary code to run on Linux, can rely on the standard.

"The application developer writes an LSB-compliant application and knows that it will run on any LSB system," said Zemlin.

In addition, that support for 32-bit and new 64-bit hardware architectures, allows for the broadest adoption and adherence to the standard, Zemlin said.

While a long list of distribution vendors have lined up to support Linux Standard Base, according to Laura DiDio, a senior analyst with The Yankee Group, of Boston, Mass., its the support of major hardware vendors that is a key development for Version 2.0.

"The fact you see IBM and HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.] standing shoulder to shoulder with the Linux distributors bodes well," said DiDio. "This is an absolutely crucial step for Linux development and acceptance in the enterprise, and theyll really need to put their muscle and weight behind it."

DiDio said that over the next couple years, most companies will first update legacy hardware, and then consider their software options. If hardware vendors support a Linux standard, it will give businesses confidence in a move to Linux.

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IBM wants their customers to have that confidence as well.

"Even if things are working well, the industry still likes to have a standard to point to and customers have been trained by the IT industry to care about standards," said Dan Frye, vice president of IBMs Linux Technology Center. "That standard continues to broaden and there are now more parts of Linux that are covered."

However, no one believes Version 2.0 will zenith for Linux Standard Base. "Now of course, they need to execute on this," said Yankees DiDio. "Theyre really getting serious about it, [but they] could still fall on their faces."

The FSGs Zemlin offered lofty ambitions for the standard: "It doesnt stop here. Just as any operating system evolves, our standard will evolve with the industry."

"This is a call to action for the open source community and industry partners to get behind something that in 5 to 10 years will be seen as a turning point in the promise of open software," he said.

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