Standard to ease Linux programming

Free Standards Group released specifications to standardize Linux programs, so that software will be able to run smoothly on different versions of the OS.

An industry group has released the first version of a standard designed to make it easier to write Linux software by guaranteeing that different versions of Linux work similarly.

The Free Standards Group released version 1.0 of the Linux Standard Base specification Friday, a move aimed at reducing the difficulties of getting software such as Oracle's database to run on versions of Linux from Red Hat, Debian, SuSE and others.

With Windows, computer users assume programs will run on the operating system without having to be changed. But variations among different versions of Linux mean that applications often have to be tweaked for each flavor of the open-source operating system. "An application will run on different versions of Linux, but it takes some doing sometimes," said Scott McNeil, executive director of the nonprofit Free Standards Group.

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LSB in effect standardizes many of the basic parts of Linux while allowing companies to add their own features atop that foundation, McNeil said. He likened the situation to standardizing an automobile as having wheels, an engine, a steering wheel and a windshield but allowing automakers to build everything from pickup trucks to race cars.

Further standardizing Linux is a key part of making it easier for companies to make software that works on Linux. But McNeil doesn't believe it will remove the need for companies to certify their software as working with a particular version of Linux.

Red Hat is the dominant seller of Linux. But executives from competitors Caldera and Turbolinux hope a standard version of Linux will help them gain more of an advantage by reducing the difficulties software companies face in supporting several versions of Linux.

The LSB effort was nascent for months before gaining steam last fall, McNeil said.

Volunteers began LSB years ago, joined soon after by the major sellers of the Linux, a clone of the venerable Unix operating system that started gaining commercial acceptance in 1998. More recently, hardware giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer and IBM threw some of their own weight behind the effort, and the Free Standards Group was formed in May 2000 to oversee the effort.

"The Linux community by itself was unable to produce an LSB. It's a lot of work, and it's not very sexy," McNeil said.

About 25 people are involved, he said. "Compaq is the latest to put engineers on the effort," he added.

A near-final copy of LSB was posted in May. Now the LSB effort is concentrating on creating test software that will make sure a version of Linux complies with the standard and with making sure higher-level software uses Linux features properly.

The testing software is in beta testing and will be released in final form by the end of the year, McNeil said. Also by that time, the Free Standards Group will start offering LSB certification, he said.

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