The Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group are merging to form the Linux Foundation, which will provide services that allow open-source products to effectively compete with those of proprietary platforms like Microsoft Windows.
The new Linux Foundation will be led by Jim Zemlin, the former executive director of the FSG and who told eWEEK that the two organizations were coming together under one roof to create a new dynamic in the market that would protect, promote and standardize the Linux platform.
The merger is pending ratification by the two organizations respective memberships and is expected to be completed in early February.
“The combination of the two groups really enables the Linux platform and all the members of the Linux Foundation to work really effectively,” Zemlin said in an interview.
“I clearly understand what the charter of the organization needs to be: we need to provide services that are useful to the community and industry, as well as protect, promote and continue to standardize the platform,” he said.
Zemlin also committed the foundation to structural changes that would let individual community members play a greater role in its technical work.
“Our work groups will be completely open to participants ranging from big companies to individual hobbyists, while our governance model will also allow for individuals to serve on the board of directors,” he said.
Up to five individuals would be able to serve on the 15-member board, which would be critical in helping the foundation broaden its base, increase participation, become more responsive to the community and collaborate technically together more effectively.
“This organization needs to be responsive to everyone who has a big investment in the platform, and that includes industry and the community, which is invested through blood, sweat and tears,” he said.
Acceptance of Linux in the enterprise was now a “slam dunk,” with the open-source operating system showing double-digit annual growth and a being a multi-billion dollar industry.
“So we are now entering into a new world of increased competition, particularly in enterprise data center deployments, essentially between the open-source and proprietary development methodologies characterized by Linux versus Windows. So what is needed is someone to promote the platform in a vendor-neutral way,” Zemlin said.
Michael Goulde, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, told eWEEK that while merging the OSDL and FSG was the right move, it was not without potential pitfalls. “Weve been down this path before: creating a single, vendor-neutral standard—remember Spec 1170 [now known as the Single Unix Specification] and the Open Software Foundation vendor-neutral implementation, OSF/1?”
What is different this time is that this is a “truly vendor-neutral effort with a licensing scheme that is more consistent with the goals. Its free software license enables anyone to develop, enhance and use Linux and its derivatives. Having a single body to drive the standard and the technology forward is a good thing,” he said.
The closest analogy today is probably the Eclipse Foundation, at least in terms of overall direction, Goulde said, adding that the plug-in standard is to Eclipse as the LSB (Linux Standard Base) is to Linux: “an enabler for growth and expansion.”
Part of the foundations mission was to promote a safe haven for Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel who also works for the OSDL, and other key Linux kernel developers, as well as providing legal protection programs like the Legal Defense Fund, the Patent Commons and managing the Linux trademark, he said.
Staff Members to Stay
“It is also important for the Linux world to collectively develop a standard that enables backward compatibility and interoperability in the heterogeneous environments that characterize todays computing,” he said.
The announcement of the merger of two of the organizations dedicated to the advancement of Linux comes some six weeks after the OSDL announced that it had laid off a number of its engineering staff and was changing focus.
Stuart Cohen, formerly OSDLs chief executive also resigned at the time and Chief Financial Officer Mike Temple took over as chief operating officer.
Zemlin said that Cohens resignation was “totally unrelated” to this announcement, adding that Temple would remain on board in an operational role “for the time being” and that running the OSDL was always intended to only be an interim role for Temple.
The foundation would not consolidate its diverse operations, which are spread out over multiple geographies, including OSDLs offices in Beaverton, Ore., a development center in Moscow, offices in Tokyo and San Francisco—where Zemlin plans to remain for the time being—and technical staff in Indiana.
“There are also no plans at this point to let any of the existing OSDL or FSG staff numbers go,” Zemlin said, adding that Linus Torvalds, and other key developers of the open-source operating system, were “100 percent supportive of the move.”
The establishment of the foundation will also enable those who have a strategic interest in Linux and want to fund that, to go to a single entity.
All of the current members and funders, which includes more than 70 open-source vendors around the world, had committed to the new foundation going forward “although Im sure they would like to see a broader base and lower taxes,” Zemlin said.
The combined members have also committed to ensuring that the foundation is financially secure for the long run.
But it is also in the interests of industry and communities to broaden its funding base, which would also help ensure it is not beholden to any single agenda. “We are committed to making sure no one exerts undue influence,” Zemlin said.
Founding platinum members of the Foundation include Fujitsu, Hitachi, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, NEC, Novell and Oracle, with Red Hat, community groups, universities and industry users also signing on.
“We need to be innovative in defining a new wave to promote the platform, one in which everyone can participate equally,” Zemlin said. “We also need to find a new and interesting way in which to create standards that blend open source upstream standardization—in the form of code collaboration—with downstream customer-facing standards that guarantee, so to speak, certain interfaces exist over time, and test suites to back that up.”
These are the kinds of innovations that, over time, will enable the platform to really compete against the highly resourced, very aggressive incumbents, including Microsoft Windows, he said.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include analyst comments.