Linux vendors to unify efforts

SuSE, Caldera and Turbolinux are to join their Linux efforts in an effort to combat the fragmentation of the operating system and the dominant market share of Red Hat

Several major companies are to announce "significant developments" in the Linux world on Thursday, which will involve a joint Linux distribution effort by Caldera International, SuSE and Turbolinux, sources have confirmed.

The Linux distributors, along with IBM, HP, Intel, Computer Associates and others are due to make the announcement on Thursday morning. A source close to one of the companies involved confirmed rumours that a single standardised Linux distribution is to be created, based on distributions from Caldera, SuSE and Turbolinux. Such a combination, drawing on the strengths of the three different distributions, could help combat the dominant position that Red Hat enjoys in the market.

IBM, HP, Intel and Computer Associates have all been involved in recent efforts to push the adoption of Linux for servers and the desktop. IBM has been particularly aggressive in promoting Linux as a low-cost, powerful alternative to proprietary operating systems, building the operating system into its range of mainframes.

Linux is based on an open-source licence, which allows it to be freely distributed and modified, as long as the redistributed versions carry the same open-source conditions. Its low cost and stability have made it particularly popular for Web servers.

Besides creating a bulwark against Red Hat, the alliance between Caldera, SuSE and Turbolinux could help to combat fragmentation in the Linux market. At the moment, software developers must tailor their applications to run on each Linux distribution, and more popular distributions such as Red Hat's tend to be certified first, while smaller distributions can lose out. Ransom Love, chief executive of Caldera, has been vocal in his concern about fragmentation, recently telling ZDNet UK, "Our biggest concern has always been compatibility problems."

Another supporter of Linux standards, developer Alan Cox of Red Hat, said a combined distribution could be another way of encouraging developers to port their applications to Linux. "If they can pull it off then I think it helps Linux as a whole to get down to five major distributions, Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, Slackware, and this merger," he said. "The big question is whether they end up with a single coherent product or a bucket of collected failures."

The efforts of SuSE, Caldera and Turbolinux parallel the work of these companies -- along with Red Hat and others -- on the Linux Standards Base (LSB), a project by the Free Standards Group to standardise some basic Linux components and make the platform more accessible to developers. In January the Free Standards Group, along with HP, IBM, Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, SuSE, Red Hat, Caldera, Turbolinux and Ximian, announced version 1.1 of the LSB.

However, the implementation of the LSB will be slow, and it may not necessarily give smaller Linux vendors a leg up in competition with Red Hat. Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook said in January that he expects the LSB to benefit the Linux industry in general, but that Red Hat will get the lion's share of the benefits, as the largest Linux vendor. Responding to Thursday's pending announcement, Claybrook said on Wednesday that he is mainly interested in what the move will do to the revenue streams of the three Linux distributors.

Red Hat is believed to be committed to the LSB, but Red Hat chairman Bob Young has said that standards are not the company's top priority, as they can stifle innovation.

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

Coiciding with Thursday's announcement, Red Hat on Wednesday launched a programme aimed at strengthening its own relationships with other technology companies.

In Red Hat's "Alliance" programme, "premier partners" will work with Red Hat to make their products compatible with its Linux enterprise products, including the recently announced Linux Advanced Server. The partners include BMC Software, Borland Software, Computer Associates, IBM and Veritas Software.

News.com's Stephen Shankland and Margaret Kane contributed to this report.


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