Microsoft debases Linux standards

Linux vendors have rejected Microsoft's claim that commercial pressures mean they will struggle to cooperate

Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft, said on Friday that there is a risk that Linux will end up fragmented like the Unix operating system -- a charge that Linux vendors have robustly denied.

Various Linux vendors including Red Hat, Novell SuSE and Mandrakesoft support Linux Standards Base, a software blueprint that seeks to standardise some aspects of Linux to make it easier for software vendors to create programs that run on various different versions of the open source operating system.

McGrath said it will be difficult to persuade vendors to keep and maintain this standard.

"It [LSB] will be a big challenge for the Linux community -- commercial advantage is what most organisations are looking for," said McGrath. "Think about what happened in the Unix world and the number of derivatives of Unix that now exist."

In response Gael Duval, the co-founder of the France-based Linux distributor Mandrakesoft, pointed out that the latest enterprise distributions from Red Hat, SuSE and Mandrakesoft all support Linux Standards Base, showing that the vendors are working together well.

Mandrakesoft is also collaborating with Linux players Conectiva, Turbolinux and Progeny to create a reference implementation based on the LSB 2.0 standard, which will make it easier for software and hardware vendors to certify to LSB.

Paul Salazar, Red Hat's director of marketing, said that LSB had Red Hat's full backing. "We've been supporting it for years," said Salazar. "If we were to go away from it the danger is that we would find ourselves isolated. We recognise the long term benefit of staying with the standard."

Microsoft's McGrath also claimed that Linux does not match up to Windows in terms of interoperability within the platform. "There is better interoperability within Windows than any other platform," said McGrath.

Salazar responded that Red Hat encourages software vendors to certify for the Red Hat platform, in an attempt to improve interoperability. "There are 1,000 applications that have been certified," said Salazar.

Mandrakesoft's Duval agreed that interoperability tends to be higher within a closed, proprietary system such as Windows, but said that Linux is interoperable with other systems, which is an advantage for companies that have a mixed infrastructure. He said Samba is a good example of this interoperability as it allows Windows files and printers to be shared by Linux systems.

"Interoperability is always at the max within a closed system ruled by proprietary standards," said Duval. "Mac OS is an excellent example too. But the current IT world is open and heterogeneous."

"Linux and open source software have chosen to rely on public standards... that means that Linux is extremely interoperable with other systems, including proprietary operating systems. Linux even supports Mac and Windows file systems and network protocols. Think of Samba -- many companies use a Samba server running on the top of a Linux system to serve applications and printing services with the Microsoft SMB protocol, rather than using a Microsoft server."

ZDNet UK Comment: This is a sea change in Microsoft policy. Until now Linux has been bad because it's non-commercial, almost un-American in its cooperative nature. Now we see that competition is bad, because it encourages people to differentiate products. No cooperation, no competition? It's almost as if the company is saying that the only safe software is that imposed by dictat. Surely not.

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