Dominant Linux-provider Red Hat has given a boost to Linux standardisation efforts with this week's broad Linux Standards Base (LSB) certification of the company's flagship product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.
Red Hat claims the RHEL 3 is the first enterprise Linux platform to achieve certification across all LSB Runtime Environment architectures. The certification is designed to ensure that applications remain easily portable across different Linux distributions -- a problem that hobbled Unix, the operating system on which Linux is modelled.
"This means if a person writes an application compliant to LSB Version 1.3, they know it will run on the x86 or S/390 architectures, and by the way, it will also run on SuSE Linux, a Sun desktop, on Caldera, and the rest," said Paul Salazar, director of marketing with Red Hat Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). "We feel this is an important step. It's really all about portability and flexibility."
Various Linux distributions from Red Hat competitors such as SuSE Linux, UnitedLinux, Turbolinux and MandrakeSoft have achieved LSB certification, but the companies have focused on Intel platforms.
Certified architectures for RHEL 3 include IA32, Itanium's IA64, IBM iSeries and pSeries, IBM S/390 and IBM zSeries. Salazar said Red Hat is the first operating system provider to receive LSB certification for the IBM platforms. Most Linux installations run on Intel-compatible x86 platforms, but the software has been heading for more powerful hardware platforms of late.
Separately, Red Hat is nearing completion of a security certification process called the Common Criteria scheme, which should speed adoption of RHEL 3 by governments and security-conscious businesses. Some government bodies require LSB as well as Common Criteria certification before they can consider a Linux platform.
The LSB, administered by the Free Standards Group, which is a nonprofit organisation of software developers and information technology industry members, standardises many of the basic parts of Linux while allowing companies to add their own features on top of that foundation.
Avoiding fragmentation is a crucial challenge for the commercial success of Linux, which depends in part on the support of software companies such as Oracle. If software companies have to support several incompatible versions of Linux, they'll shy away.
Versions of Unix from Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard work somewhat differently, meaning that it can take months for a software company such as Veritas to translate and test its software to expand Unix support. The gulf between different versions of Unix is widened by the fact that they use different underlying microprocessors.
But LSB certification, while helpful in preventing Linux from fragmenting into incompatible versions that can't run the same software, isn't all that's needed to make versions of Linux interchangeable. Some software needing particular high-performance features bypasses the domain of LSB, reaching directly into the heart, or kernel, of Linux, which is an area LSB won't standardise.
In August last year, three versions of Linux -- Red Hat 7.3, SuSE 8.0 Professional and Mandrake ProSuite 8.2 -- became the first products certified to comply with the LSB guidelines.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.