Marcelo Tosatti, maintainer of the current Linux kernel, on Friday defended his company's recent move to join its software with that of three competitors as a necessary step in pushing Linux into big businesses.
Tosatti's Brazilian Linux distributor, Conectiva, recently said it would join its server software with that of Germany's SuSE and Red Hat and Turbolinux of the US. Each plans to sell the same collection of Linux elements under its own brand name, allowing software vendors to certify their products for a single distribution, rather than four. UnitedLinux has been widely viewed as a means to combat the dominance of Red Hat in the Linux industry, as well as to simplify the market for software developers.
Earlier this week, France's MandrakeSoft issued an explanation of why it would not be joining UnitedLinux, depicting the venture as simple market consolidation without any particular technical merits. The firm urged operating system makers and application vendors to instead certify their products for the Linux Standards Base (LSB), a long-standing programme of improving different Linux distributions' compatibiity with one another.
Tosatti, however, criticised the notion that the LSB is sufficient to ensure broad software compatibility. "You can't just be certified for the LSB. There are a lot of things that aren't covered by that," he said.
Compatibility is becoming more of an issue as Linux vendors seek to broaden the operating system's appeal in big businesses. Because of its open-source licence, which allows software source code to be modified and redistributed so long as the resulting code is itself open source, a number of different distributions have emerged, and all contain a slightly different mix of components.
When big independent software vendors (ISVs) want to sell applications for Linux, they must go through an expensive process of certifying the software for each distribution. Less widely used distributions can face a delay in getting certified versions of important software, if they get it at all.
Tosatti agreed with MandrakeSoft's analysis that UnitedLinux is a business deal, rather than a technical imperative, but said that does not diminish its importance.
"It's really purely business, not technical," he said. "UnitedLinux makes a better situation because it reduces the number of big commercial distributions down to two, really. For ISVs it's very expensive to have to certify their software for every distribution... So this makes things a lot easier for ISVs."
Tosatti was in Bristol on Friday for the Linux Developers' Conference sponsored by the UK Unix Users' Group. He has been maintainer of the "stable" 2.4 kernel since last autumn, when the 2.5 kernel was launched for the introduction of more experimental technologies.
Tosatti said that further expansion into the enterprise is one of Linux's biggest opportunities at the moment, along with delving further into the huge embedded market and increasing its appeal to desktop users. He praised recent moves by the likes of Red Hat and SuSE to introduce specialised versions of their distributions that focus on stability over support for the latest technologies.
"I think there's a need for that," he said. "Enterprises don't want to be constantly updating the software. They want to be able to put it in and just leave it alone."