Take Metrowerks. Here's a company that makes a significant piece of software called CodeWarrior, a software development environment that's very popular, and is considered by some a standard for programming for handhelds and other computer platforms. In November the company announced it would be making a Linux version of its software -- not a bad piece of news, considering that the company had never bothered much with Unix versions.
Heaven forbid life should be this easy. Its original announcement simply said there'd be a version for Linux. But now that it's released, we see that the product is clearly named "CodeWarrior for Red Hat Linux."
Against the grain
The announcement caused alarm bells to go off in the minds of some, especially users of Debian, Caldera and other distributions. Many have reason to be concerned; fears of Linux fragmentation more than a year ago led to the creation of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) committee. Part of the goal of the LSB is to provide an environment in which application vendors don't write to/for one specific distribution. Until the LSB completes its work, though, it's all too easy for a vendor to attach themselves to one platform for porting -- and for supporting. Thus the concern regarding Metrowerks' new product.
It's certainly not the first time this has happened. When the InterBase database first came out it, too, only supported Red Hat. And the Appgen accounting system was originally announced only for Caldera. Both companies quickly changed their minds when confronted on the issue of fragmentation, and now support Linux distributions from many vendors.
All for one...
But Metrowerks is a different story. None of the others had so tied themselves to a distribution in their product naming and press announcements, and Metrowerks isn't likely to change the name "CodeWarrior for Red Hat Linux" any time soon.
Metrowerks President Jean Belanger says it's all in the way his company works. "We don't make operating systems, so we need to depend on vendors to provide the underlying system support," he said. "That's our business model, and we work that way on other platforms."
Belanger said that because of the need to work with vendors, Metrowerks would not produce a single version of its product that would work across all versions of Linux. "Our R&D guys are smart enough to do one version if we wanted to, but there's no reason to do it that way." He said that Metrowerks' marketing relationships with various Linux vendors also made a difference, but he would not discuss those relationships.
As for the Red Hat-specific product naming, Belanger is unapologetic. He said that he is in negotiation with a number of other major (but unnamed) Linux vendors, and expects to have support for at least three other distributions this year -- each with their own distribution-specific naming.
...and one for all
But Arne Flones isn't impressed by Belanger's explanation. A software developer for more than 20 years based out of Ontario, Calif., Flones voiced his disapproval of distribution-specific applications in an opinion piece critical of both Metrowerks and Red Hat.
"I've worked with tools such as CodeWarrior, and there's absolutely no reason they need to make a different version for each distribution," Flones said. "So long as the kernel, libraries and processor match, the rest is trivial. There's no reason they can't release their Linux products the same way other major vendors such as Oracle and WordPerfect do -- non-distribution-specific."
Flones says that the action of naming a product (and supporting it) for one distribution rather than all of them hurts the Linux community. "It just fractures the market needlessly, and sends a message to Linux distribution vendors that they're going to need to fight with each other for support of application vendors. This trend is a very bad one to start."
Belanger said that it was a "mistake" that the Metrowerks Web site, which makes such loud allegiance to Red Hat from the outset, doesn't indicate that versions of CodeWarrior for other Linux distributions are coming. He said appropriate changes to the company's Web site would be made around the time this piece gets published.
While Red Hat staff have to watch what they say because of the upcoming IPO, I have been told by contacts within Red Hat that it never tries to get any software vendor to port specifically to its distribution at the exception of others. Furthermore, I believe Red Hat people when they say that they, too, believe and hope that the LSB will offer enough of a common target to allow software vendors to more easily write to multiple distributions, while still encouraging distribution vendors to innovate beyond that common base.
Still, there's cause to be wary and vigilant, and maybe even a little cynical. We do need to watch out for the perception. It's all too easy to read the wrong motives into Red Hat President Bob Young's words. He is quoted in the CodeWarrior for Red Hat Linux rollout as saying:
"By making CodeWarrior's user-friendly development tools available, we will attract a broad base of software developers writing applications for the Red Hat platform."Not the Linux platform. The Red Hat platform.
Such divisive language doesn't help the Linux community, especially at a time when cohesion is so badly needed. Software developers need to see more leadership and a greater commitment to platform independence from existing Linux vendors.
We don't want to revisit the Unix world's worst moments, do we?
Evan Leibovitch has been working with Unix and Linux on PC systems for more than a dozen years. He's a partner in Starnix Inc., a Linux-centric integrator based in Brampton, Ontario. He has been heavily involved in user groups, both as a former director of UniForum Canada and as a current director of the Canadian Linux Users' Exchange. When not around computers, Evan enjoys cooking, writing, and annoying his children.