December 21, 2004

ISVs turn to LSB to foil Linux forking

Author: Jay Lyman

What may be more important than the biggest companies supporting and complying with the Linux Standard Base (LSB) 2.0 -- all of the major Linux distribution vendors including Red Hat, HP, Novell, IBM, Mandrakesoft, Turbolinux, as well as hardware companies Dell and Intel -- is the many smaller but still significant companies that are needed to develop applications for the standard Linux operating system for distributors.

The good news is that getting those ISVs to offer their ideas and do their part to make LSB relevant and useful is not too hard, according to Free Standards Group executive director Jim Zemlin, whose nonprofit group is behind the LSB.

Zemlin, who said he has witnessed a renewed vigor around the anti-fragmentation standard for Linux among key industry groups and individuals in his six months working on LSB, indicated that all of the major Linux application vendors are also coming together on the single Linux specification.

"The cost savings is so high for these guys," Zemlin said. "Being able to write to Linux through LSB -- they're certainly seeking that information."

Zemlin said heading off harmful fragmentation was the biggest concern of about 30 major ISVs that responded to a recent survey from the FSG. While the biggest names in Linux have publicly announced support for the LSB, the number of ISV supporters that have been vocal is limited mostly to the LCC group. While he said the survey is confidential and declined to offer names, Zemlin said most major Linux vendors in the market are on the list. All of these vendors agreed on the fight against forking, according to Zemlin.

"Nobody wants to see Linux fragment," he said. "That was the overwhelming response to our survey."

Nobody except for the competition, perhaps. While Microsoft has made more noise recently about TCO and patent mojo, the company has been known to resort to feeding forking fears in the past.

Stressing the need to incorporate ISV feedback into the LSB and its roadmap, Zemlin said LSB 2.0 had been largely shaped by application vendors who are looking to write to Linux just once.

"They needed the specification to cover more of the libraries they utilize in building their applications," Zemlin said of survey results. "They basically want to see additional runtime environments, security things like cryptography and XML, and support for PERL, PHP, and Java."

"They want to see these things and over time, it will allow them to more effectively write Linux applications," Zemlin added.

The FSG executive director said he is recruiting help to reach more ISVs, and the group is publishing books, hosting workshops -- including an educational service seminar at Open Source Development Labs' summit next year -- and creating other programs that are all intended to make writing applications for Linux and writing applications for LSB the same thing.

"This year indicates the industry reached a point that [LSB] works," Zemlin said. "We've got every single global Linux distributor on the planet. Next year, I think you'll see significant international expansion from our organization."

Zemlin, who stressed the need for open standards as much as open source, predicted the nonprofit FSG would be doubling, tripling, or possibly quadrupling its membership next year.

"I think what you'll see next year for LSB is critical mass," Zemlin said. "The specification will be on the road to being expanded. We're delivering on our promise to prevent the fragmentation of Linux. The industry made a decision. We don't want Linux to fragment. The timing is critical and LSB is really the only mechanism doing it."


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