October 18, 2005

Free Standards Group launches Linux Standard Base Desktop Project

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

The Free Standards Group (FSG) announced the Linux Standard Base (LSB) Desktop Project today. The goal of the project is to spur widespread adoption of Linux on the desktop by providing a standard application runtime for vendors to target when writing applications for the Linux desktop. Participating in the project are Adobe, Intel, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, Linspire, Trolltech, and several other companies and organizations.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the FSG, said that the Desktop specification would be an "incremental component on top of the LSB Core." The LSB Core specification covers standard system libraries, the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS), the executable format, standard commands and utilities, and other components that would be found in a standard Linux system.

The Desktop specification will go further than the LSB Core specification to cover additional libraries that would not be necessary for a server installation of Linux. For example, the workgroup wiki indicates that GTK, Freetype, XML2, and image libraries are slated to be in the first version of the Desktop specification.

Widespread support

While it's not surprising to see Linux vendors like Novell, Red Hat, and Linspire participating in the Desktop Project, support from companies like Adobe and Intel is a bit more unusual.

Patrice Lagrange, director of Linux Strategy and Market Development for Adobe, said it hasn't been easy to target the Linux desktop. The company doesn't provide Linux versions of its commercial applications, but Adobe does provide a Linux version of its free Acrobat Reader. In porting Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 to Linux, Lagrange said the company found that it's "quite a headache to support all distributions" because of inconsistencies between different Linux distributions, and the need for vendors to test an application across multiple distributions.

Some might see Adobe's involvement as a sign that the company is planning to port some or all of its popular graphics applications to Linux. Though Adobe has flirted with Linux support in the past, offering a beta version of FrameMaker and then pulling the plug on the project, Lagrange said that the company doesn't have any plans to offer other Adobe products on Linux at this time -- though he did say that the company is "constantly monitoring development of the market."

Despite the fact that Adobe isn't announcing plans to port additional products to Linux, it's not hard to conclude that Adobe may consider porting applications to Linux if the Desktop Project is successful. As Zemlin said, "I can't imagine that they're going to reduce the number of applications that run on Linux."

Danese Cooper of Intel said that her company was supporting the Desktop Project because it wanted to support their customers who were choosing FOSS platforms. "There are areas of the world where our customers are routinely choosing desktops based on Linux. We see LSB Desktop as a critical piece of the standards puzzle that needs to be solved to attract more ISVs."

Ian Murdock, chairman and chief strategist of Progeny and leader of the DCC Alliance, said that he sees the Linux desktop "on the same path that Linux was on in the server room, five, six, or seven years ago." According to Murdock, Linux is "good enough" for many desktop applications today, but still lacks the depth of the Windows software ecosystem.

However, Murdock said that the LSB Desktop can help remedy the lack of desktop applications for Linux by making it easier for ISVs to target Linux. He also noted the advantage of having a vendor-neutral standard as opposed to a "single vendor's conception of what a Linux desktop is."

Desktop Project timeline

The first LSB Desktop specification will be released sometime in 2006. The first release will be outside of the normal LSB release cycle, but Zemlin said that the Desktop specification will "eventually" synchronize with the LSB standard.

Zemlin said this is an ideal time for the Desktop Project. "The time is right here. When you see for the first time multi-thousand seat deployments in places like China, see a maturing of the Linux office suite, now is the time to embrace the standard and make it easy for companies like Adobe and Real to target the Linux platform and build out a large application ecosystem on the [Linux] desktop and break this monopoly.

"I would love to look back five years and see that this was the start of the end of the Windows monopoly on the desktop."

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