Linux Vendors Rally Around UnitedLinux To Compete Against Red Hat

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As Red Hat solidifies its position as the de facto standard for Linux, four underdog distribution vendors have banded together in an effort to create a unified alternative of Linux for the enterprise market.

On Thursday, four of Red Hat's chief competitors--Caldera, SuSE, TurboLinux and Conectiva--unveiled plans to create a global, uniform distribution of Linux, called UnitedLinux. The plan is to compete head on in enterprise markets with Red Hat's Linux, and in particular, the recently introduced Red Hat Advanced Server, analysts said. It will also go up against Sun's Linux distribution on Intel server, due to ship in the middle of the year.

The UnitedLinux distribution--backed by vendors including IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, Borland, Computer Associates International, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, NEC, Fujitsu, Progress Software and SAP--represents a major Linux standardization effort and signals a consolidation under way in the Linux market. Red Hat already has amassed industrywide support and currently controls more than 80 percent of the North American Linux market, according to Gartner Group.

Analysts are somewhat skeptical about the chance for UnitedLinux, but point out that the four vendors offer major OEMs, ISVs and solution providers a deeper international reach than Red Hat.

"Due to the support of IBM, this effort is hard to easily dismiss; however, what remains to be seen whether Oracle, Veritas [Software and BEA [Systems will also endorse this effort," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga. "The three leading distribution choices for enterprise customers will include Sun Linux, UnitedLinux and Red Hat."

Each will continue bundling value-added software and services and will sell UnitedLinux distributions under their own brand-name products, the companies said. Each vendor, for example, plans to ship a UnitedLinux server distribution by the end of 2002.

UnitedLinux members will collaborate on a common core Linux operating system and streamline development and certification around that single distribution. This is a big benefit to solution providers, ISVs and OEMs, which currently must conduct separate testing and certification efforts around each of those four distributions, including Caldera OpenLinux, SuSE Linux and TurboLinux.

Some Linux solution providers are supportive of the idea but said the quality of execution remains to be seen.

"It's meeting with general approval around here," said Anthony Awtrey, vice president and director of integration at Ideal Technology, Melbourne, Fla. "Each of the distributions bring certain advantages to the table. Connectiva offers the apt package manager for rpm distributions and some real polish on the user interface, SuSE offers a great configuration system in Yast2 and good European localization, TurboLinux has good far-east localization and clustering technology, and Caldera has a good service arm and experience working with independant software vendors. Of course, it depends on how they pull this off," he said.

Overall, there are more than 180 Linux distributions in existence, with about 10 leading Linux distributions globally.

Even Red Hat said a three-horse race is better for the overall Linux market but hinted that it intends to remains ahead of the pack. "Too many distributions hamper the migration of applications to Linux, so if this effort by Caldera and others consolidates distributions, it is a good development," said Mark de Visser, vice president of marketing at Red Hat. "But in Linux, application support is everything. Red Hat Linux Advanced Server has it today. Time will tell if the Caldera group's distribution will achieve the same level of support."

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