The recently completed LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco dealt with business - lots of business. But one issue that concerns many companies developing solutions for Linux is the number of different Linux distributions. The earlier fragmentation of the Unix operating system left many desiring the one-size-fits-all approach promised by Microsoft - even if it wasn't really one size and it didn't really fit all. As a result, many businesses look at the various Linux distributions and fear that history will repeat itself.
Thankfully, many who saw the futility and destruction caused by the Unix wars are also participating in the Linux world. And they have no intention of letting lightning strike twice.
Granted, the potential Linux problem is not nearly as extreme as the Unix problem had been. With Unix, just about every variant had a different kernel, surrounded by different utilities, hosted on different hardware architectures. Changing Unix vendors was usually an expensive proposition, both in hardware and software.
Linux distributions, on the other hand, usually share the same kernel, the same utilities, and the same hardware architecture. What is sometimes different is the location of certain files and the versions of libraries. But even these relatively minor differences can cost vendors time and money to certify that their hardware and software products will run properly with each Linux distribution.
Enter the Free Standards Group (www.freestandards.org). This collection of concerned individuals and organisations from across the open-source world is working to deliver workable standards that will simplify the task of ensuring that software and hardware will work with a given Linux distribution. After a slow start a few years ago, the FSG announced that its Linux Standards Base certification is ready to go.
And go it has. During LinuxWorld Expo, it was announced that Red Hat, Mandrake, and SuSE all had distributions that have earned the current LSB certification. Absent from the list but not forgotten is UnitedLinux, which is assembling its initial base distribution, and has announced that it intends to be standards compliant; it should be joining the party before too long. And because SuSE is engineering for the UnitedLinux effort, one would expect that UL will be on the list sooner rather than later.
This is great news for the Linux world. The emergence of Linux standards will help drive the progression of Linux business. The fact that Unix could never seem to get beyond the "standards" of CDE and Motif helped contribute to the downfall of the old Unix world to Windows.
The next stop on the FSG's list is the LI18NUX internationalisation standard (www.li18nux.org). For an operating system developed internationally, proper standards for dealing with languages of every type is important.
Good standards can make for good computing. I fully expect a lot of good computing ahead.
Contact InfoWorld contributing editor Russell Pavlicek at firstname.lastname@example.org.