Standard Finally Debuts For Linux ISVs

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After a three-year effort, the open-source community has released a common Linux standard for ISVs. With that, proponents of the open-source operating system are betting on a higher availability of penguin-stamped applications on store shelves.

The release of the Linux Standards Base (LSB) 1.1, endorsed Thursday at LinuxWorld Expo by leading OEMs and Linux distribution vendors, may entice holdouts in the desktop and enterprise application ISV market such as Siebel to write Linux applications, said Scott McNeil, executive director of the Free Standards Group.

IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Compaq Computer and Dell Computer are among the industry titans supporting the standard. Microsoft will not.

"This is a significant part of the infrastructure that needs to get into place," said Steven Wallace, product marketing director for operating systems at Dell. "It's a unified base for ISVs to port their applications to Linux so it should increase the choice of applications to all customers."

While Linux has garnered the support of many top ISVs such as Oracle, BMC Software, Computer Associates International and IBM, it continues to lack a critical mass of support that has existed for Microsoft and its Windows API set for more than a decade. Observers have identified the limited availability of commercial applications for Linux as a major obstacle to corporate adoption.

"There is a lot of testing involved in certifying [applications for all the [Linux distributions," said Judy Chavis, Linux program manager at Compaq. "It is very important we come to a set of standards we can all test against."

With the new Linux standard, ISVs will be able to have their applications certified for LSB 1.1 in six months, McNeil said. Leading Linux distribution vendor Red Hat said that the next major upgrade of Red Hat Linux due later this spring will incorporate support for the standard.

"It's a major thrust forward," said Paul Cormier, executive vice president of research and development for Red Hat in Durham, N.C., noting that the lack of a standard, or API set, makes it tough on ISVs because it requires them to port their applications for each major Linux distribution. "This is the best thing that can happen to an ISV," he said.

Caldera's current Linux distribution supports version 1.0 of the LSB that was made available last October. The standard trotted out at the New York show on Thursday, version 1.1, includes extensions to that base set.

Unlike Microsoft's Windows API set, which most ISVs currently support, the LSB 1.1 standardizes the core functionality of Linux and suite of tools, yet ISVs will continue to write applications that can exploit the unique facets of each Linux application, Linux advocates said.

The intent of the standard is to create a base core of functionality to reduce testing and certification requirements for ISVs, making the porting process more cost-effective.

"LSB is a step; we need to keep pushing forward," said Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera. "The [individual distributions will continue with value-added functionality on top of the bits. [The standard reduces the cost for ISVs."

One Linux solution provider said LSB 1.1 may be a small, but important step to getting more customers on the Linux bandwagon. "One of the more pressing problems Linux has faced in the past was the lack of a definitive baseline to build applications on. Until distributions began to conform to the LSB, there were no guarantees that a particular set of libraries or services would be available to run an application," said Anthony Awtrey, vice president and director of integration at Ideal Technology, Melbourne, Fla. "Now that the LSB has further clarified the standard and it has been accepted by the major distributions, this problem will be minimized even more in the future."

Oracle and Credit Suisse First Boston Thursday revealed their support for the standard.

While there literally exist hundred of distributions, most of the leading ones are expected to support LSB 1.1, including Red Hat and Caldera, leading distributions in the United States;, SuSe, a major vendor in Germany; TurboLinux, the leading provider in Asia; RedFlag, the top Linux supplier in China; and the leading Mandrake distribution in France. In addition, Best Linux, the most popular Linux distribution in the homeland of Linux creator Linus Torvalds, will also support the standard, officials said.

Torvalds wasn't in attendance at the press conference Thursday, but in a public statement said LSB 1.1 is a "natural extension of Linux into the enterprise."

Torvalds holds the trademark to the Linux operating system.

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