Linux standard gets stamp of approval

The Linux Standards Base, which aims to make Linux more attractive to big software vendors, has moved forward with a new certification programme. But it will take time to make its mark

A project aimed at keeping different Linux distributions on the same track has moved a step forward with the launch of a certification programme to back up the project's claims. The programme, announced by the Free Standards Group, is the latest effort by the largest Linux vendors to make the platform more attractive to major software vendors, and accelerate its acceptance by big businesses.

The launch of the Linux Standards Base certification programme comes six months after the introduction of Linux Standards Base 1.1, a major advancement in the standardisation project, which had long lain dormant.

The standards will make it easier for software companies such as Oracle to bring their applications to Linux, according to the Free Standards Group. Oracle will know what Linux features can be expected, not only from one company's version of Linux to another, but across newer versions of the same company's product.

The certification programme is aimed at developers, software vendors and Linux distributions alike, and is designed to allow customers to easily identify software that has gone through the standardisation process. Certification prices run from $400 (about £280) to $3,000.

"Corporate, government, enterprise and individual end users, as well as developers and ISVs can be assured that an LSB certified Linux distribution or program meets the highest possible adherence to the standard," stated Free Standards Group executive director Scott McNeil.

The Free Standards Group is an independent non-profit group that promotes standards in open-source technologies. The organisation has contracted The Open Group, which specialises in interoperability certification, to manage the programme.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, Compaq, SuSE, Red Hat, Caldera International, Turbolinux and Ximian announced the standard at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York at the end of January.

LSB 1.1 has more recently been complemented by the decision of Linux vendors Caldera International, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux and Conectiva to combine their efforts into a single LSB-compliant distribution called UnitedLinux. The distribution is scheduled to appear by the end of this year.

However, UnitedLinux does not yet include some of the biggest distributors, of which Red Hat is the most prominent. Red Hat has said that it will bring its software into the LSB fold, but the process will take time.

Though Red Hat's basic version of Linux will comply with LSB this year, its coming high-end Advanced Server version initially will not, the company has said. And with that product being updated once every 12 to 18 months, it will be well into 2003 before it does comply.

Red Hat doesn't have as much to worry about because most software companies certify their programs to work with Red Hat's Linux distribution first. But Red Hat has said that LSB will ensure that software companies will have an easier time dealing with upgrades, which come every six months or so. Without that stability, software makers would have to constantly spend money to re-certify software.

The standard, along with software that checks whether a version of Linux or software that runs on Linux complies with the standard, governs some basic parts of Linux -- for example, which "libraries" of reusable software components are available, what basic commands Linux can execute, or where to find specific programs in the file system.

Major Linux companies have endorsed the standards and said they will make sure their versions of Linux will comply.

The LSB released version 1.0 in beta testing form in July, then expanded it before settling on version 1.1 as the standard that should be adopted.

The LSB project is designed to keep Linux from fragmenting into several incompatible versions, as happened with Unix, an operating system used in high-end servers. The fragmentation of Unix -- the operating system on which Linux is based -- helped Microsoft's relatively unified Windows to gain market share.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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