Novell CEO Calls For Linux Apps Certification Standardization

"Today I'm asking all of us, the entire open source vendor community, to support a vendor-neutral effort to standardize ISV certification," Hovsepian said. "Whether we like it or not, the application is what drives the final customer decision, and if we don't have as many applications on the distribution as possible, we put ourselves at risk as an industry."

Because Linux distributions vary, independent developers have to test and certify their applications against multiple versions of Linux. While Hovsepian focused his remarks on the burden this places on ISVs, it's also a burden for Novell, whose SUSE Linux trails rival Red Hat in application support. Red Hat said last month that it has certified more than 3,000 applications to date to work with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux and JBoss product lines, and has already certified 400 applications for use with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which shipped in March.

An industry-wide certification would level the playing field and reverse the current trend of distributions competing "on quantities of applications rather than quality of code," Hovsepian said in his presentation.

Hovsepian's call to action may have been more of a rhetorical flourish than an announcement of imminent plans to spearhead an initiative. Hovsepian offered few details of how such an industry-wide effort could be organized and launched, and Novell had little post-keynote elaboration to offer.

Sponsored post

"We have had some preliminary discussions with others in the industry, and we believe there are many who support the concept. But it's really still at the concept phase," Novell Public Relations Director Bruce Lowry said via e-mail. "The [Linux Standard Base] is obviously the place to start, but we think we all need to be more ambitious, to really make it easy for ISVs to develop for Linux. We'll certainly be talking more about this idea with partners in the coming weeks."

Some of those potential partners shrugged off Hovsepian's tossed certification gauntlet as nothing new.

"There's a lot of vendors out there that have proposed the same thing," said Richard Daley, CEO of Pentaho, an open-source business intelligence software maker. Pentaho, a Novell partner, certifies against several Linux distributions, including Red Hat, SUSE and Debian. Doing so isn't a serious hassle or financial obstacle, Daley said.

"If you're written in pure Java, it's easy," Daley said.

Software developer SpikeSource has built its business around integrating and certifying open-source applications into seamless bundles. While SpikeSource CEO Kim Polese said she agreed wholeheartedly with Hovsepian's argument that customers require an ecosystem of certifiably harmonious applications, she pointed to a number of existing industry efforts already working toward that goal.

In addition to the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a multi-vendor effort Novell participates in that works to increase standardization among Linux distributions, other groups like the Open Solutions Alliance (which SpikeSource helped found) promote the development of common APIs to enable open-source applications to more easily work together.

Still, Polese said she would welcome further action from Novell or anyone else in the industry toward easing interoperability.

"It's music to our ears," she said. "Customers won't go to Linux if the applications don't run consistently, reliably, and in a cost-effective way."

Red Hat was less enthusiastic about Hovsepian's certification clarion call.

"Anything that's for open standards and the good of Linux, we're for. My caveat is, it has to be grounded in reality," said Michael Evans, Red Hat's vice president of corporate development. "When we find out more about what it is, we'll see if there's anything of substance. But with [Hovsepian] as the guy who did the Microsoft deal, to me, anything that he says is suspect."

Evans was referring to Novell's patent covenant pact with Microsoft, which won Novell protection against the hypothetical legal actions Microsoft may one day take to enforce the hundreds of its patents it claims Linux violates. The deal, announced in November, earned Novell the ire of many open-source devotees, who consider the vendor to have sold out the community's principals in striking a deal with its mortal enemy.

Hovsepian had to face some of that animosity during his keynote's question-and-answer session. One audience member rose to question him on how Microsoft will honor its commitment to distribute coupons for SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 subscriptions, since Novell has announced its intention to include code covered under the new GNU General Public License 3 in SUSE Linux, while Microsoft has sworn never to touch GPL 3 code.

Hovespian responded with a legalistic parsing of the Novell/Microsoft coupon arrangement, under which Novell handles all aspects of the coupon redemption and SUSE distribution and allows Microsoft to stay distant from actually handling the software.

But Hovespian couldn't so easily shake off the audience's sentiments. The crowd burst into applause, for the first time that morning, when the question was asked. While the legality of Novell's arrangement with Microsoft is a question that will have to be left in the hands of squads of lawyers, the Linux community has been vocal in its evaluation of the pact's ethics: they consider it a Faustian deal.