Linux partnership addresses forking

Deal between Ubuntu and Linspire to integrate each other's technology is a step toward reducing Linux fragmentation, an analyst says.

The deal between Linux makers Ubuntu and Linspire will help to address fragmentation of the open source operating system, according to an analyst.

Earlier this month, Canonical, the lead sponsor of the popular Ubuntu operating system, and Linspire, the developer of the commercial desktop Linux operating system (OS) of the same name, announced a technology partnership to integrate the core competencies from each company into the other's Linux offerings.

According to a recent statement, Linspire will transition from Debian to Ubuntu as the underlying technology base for the Linspire and Freespire desktop OSes. Linspire users are expected to benefit from Ubuntu's fast development cycles and focus on usability.

In addition, Ubuntu users will gain access to the Linspire CNR (click and run) software download service. With Ubuntu's 7.04 release due this April, Ubuntu users will be able to use the CNR client to download and install commercial programs and proprietary media drivers with one click of the mouse. Canonical also plans to integrate aspects of the CNR technology so the purchase of commercial software is straightforward for desktop users in future.

Jay Lyman, an analyst for open source at The 451 Group, told ZDNet Asia that the Ubuntu-Linspire deal addresses the Linux fragmentation problem in several ways.

He said: "First, it is recognition that Ubuntu is the leader and perhaps the best bet for a more mainstream desktop Linux. Linspire also recognizes that Ubuntu's success has been driven largely by the consolidation of other Linux distributions, and this is a trend away from fragmentation."

However, Lyman noted that while Linspire would like to get similar deals with other desktop Linux distributions, it won't be changing its technology base, which would be Ubuntu.

He added: "I'm not sure if we will see any similar partnerships, though, because the circumstances with Linspire and Ubuntu were unique in that Linspire was willing to change its technical underpinnings, and Ubuntu wanted to incorporate Linspire's CNR."

More importantly, Lyman added, the deal allows Linspire to "co-opt" Ubuntu Linux rather than compete with Canonical directly. Linspire can also take advantage of more regular, reliable updates with Ubuntu, he said.

"As for Ubuntu, it gets a more mature, polished Linux installation technology. Ubuntu will also get a share of proceeds from CNR software sales," Lyman added.

Ian Murdock, CTO of The Linux Foundation, an industry organization recently formed from the merger of the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, said any cooperation between Linux vendors is a step forward in eliminating fragmentation.

"And Linspire and Ubuntu are arguably two of the biggest commercial players in the Debian space, so this will only help compatibility," he told ZDNet Asia.

Murdock, however, noted that bigger problems exist between RPM (Red Hat Package Manager)-based distributions, and between RPM-based distributions and Debian.

"So, there's still a lot of work to do," he said.

RPM-based Linux distributions and Debian-based ones differ in the way software is installed on their platforms. But with Ubuntu incorporating Linspire's CNR technology, The 451 Group's Lyman noted that there is at least some standardization of desktop Linux package installation, which has been a contributor to fragmentation, Lyman said.

"Linspire will be extending CNR to other desktop distributions--Debian, Fedora, OpenSuse--in April with, and this may further a more standard installation model for desktop Linux," Lyman added. t

The Linux Foundation's Murdock pointed out that consolidation "is a natural part of a market maturing".

"Thousands of flowers bloom at the beginning, and the desire for interoperability and a larger ecosystem invariably drives consolidation and standardization," he said. "Partnerships of this kind, as well as cooperation between vendors like you see happening in the Linux Foundation, are an important part of where Linux is headed."

Lyman agreed that the consolidation of differen desktop Linux distributions will continue, but the big challenge for desktop Linux is still the dominance of Windows.

He noted: "It will take OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deals and pre-installation from a Dell or HP to drive new desktop Linux users and create real traction [for desktop Linux]."

This week, Dell acknowledged, through its new user forum, that many customers want pre-installed Linux on their PCs. But short of offering Linux-based machines, the company said, it is "working with Novell to certify our corporate client products for Linux, including our OptiPlex desktops, Latitude notebooks and Dell Precision workstations."