UnitedLinux prepares first beta

The four founding companies behind the unified Linux distribution will hand a 'closed' beta-test version of UnitedLinux 1.0 to their partners later this month

UnitedLinux, the project uniting the operating system software of Caldera, Conectiva, SuSE Linux and Turbolinux, said it will begin beta-testing its new distribution in the next two weeks. The group also revealed details of how it will recruit new operating system and developer partners.

The beta-testing programme will roll out in two stages, the group said: a closed beta for partners of the four founding companies -- as opposed to more recent partnerships formed through UnitedLinux -- and a publicly available "open beta". The former will arrive by the end of this month, with the latter scheduled for a September release.

This scheduling may indicate a delay for the first finished release of the UnitedLinux distribution, originally scheduled for early in the fourth quarter.

UnitedLinux has also announced the structure it will use for new members and partners, from individual code contributors up to Linux distributors.

The Linux Distributor partner level is for new companies who join at the level of the original four founders. These partners have a seat on the group's board of directors and technical steering committee, and have the rights to distribute UnitedLinux 1.0 and to use the phrase "Powered by UnitedLinux" in marketing.

They get access to the software build environment -- a term for development code that is not available publicly -- and share in profits.

Developers are classed as Technical Advisory Board Members, developing members and developer programme members. The first category is designed for companies who are already investing significantly in Linux development and need access to the software build environment.

Developing members are similar to technical advisory board members, but don't need to make support patches themselves or make major modifications to the UnitedLinux code. The third category is for individuals or smaller software companies. All will pay annual sign-up fees and contribute marketing funds, the group said.

The fee structure marks a difference in philosophy from some Linux distributors. MandrakeSoft, for example, takes an exceptionally open approach to development, allowing public access to new beta-test versions as they appear, and releasing completed distributions online as soon as they are complete.

The UnitedLinux effort is designed to streamline development and certification around Linux server distributions, while allowing the member companies to reduce their costs in a difficult economic environment. It pools some resources while giving much of the technological control to SuSE -- a recognition of the reality that SuSE was the only Linux seller that had a development staff with depth comparable to Red Hat's.

The first version of UnitedLinux will essentially be the next version of SuSE's advanced server edition augmented with other companies' features. Those improvements include better support for Asian language characters from Turbolinux and basic "failover" software from Conectiva, which lets one server take over when another fails.

SuSE's work to gain all-important certification from hardware and software companies will carry through to the UnitedLinux version, Dyroff said.

With UnitedLinux, each company will sell the same base package of Linux -- the kernel at the heart of the software and several higher-level software packages such as user interfaces and configuration tools. They will differentiate in marketing and sales techniques, adding their own components such as Caldera's Volution or Turbolinux's PowerCockpit management software.

While the companies are pooling developers and research funding, each will keep revenue from the products and services it sells.

When formed, the group conspicuously didn't include market leader Red Hat and France's MandrakeSoft, both of which have said they have no plans to join the effort. Sun Microsystems, which this month launches Sun Linux 5.0 -- its first Linux distribution -- also said it has no plans to join. Sun Linux 5.0 is based on Red Hat 7.2.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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