[AG-TECH] Linux Backers to Support Single Standard
erritenour at lbl.gov
Mon Sep 13 15:02:05 CDT 2004
Linux Backers to Support Standard
By WILLIAM M. BULKELEY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 13, 2004; Page B4
Major Linux backers have agreed to support a single version of the
freely exchanged computer-operating software, in a move to strengthen
its competitiveness against Microsoft Corp.
The Free Standards Group, a nonprofit trade organization based in San
Francisco, is expected to announce today that providers of Linux
versions from around the world agreed to back Linux Standard Base 2.0.
Those who have also agreed include International Business Machines
Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Intel Corp. and other companies
that sell Linux-based computers, software and services.
Jim Zemlin, executive director of Free Standards Group, said the
agreement "is essential for Linux to compete with Microsoft -- owner of
the dominant Windows operating system for personal computers, and other
operating systems. Without control, Mr. Zemlin added, distribution of
applications and changes for Linux could vary in ways that make them
One benefit of Linux has been that it is an open standard, accessible to
everyone. But for-profit companies such as Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh,
N.C., and Novell Inc. of Waltham, Mass., frequently add features to
Linux to make their products and services more appealing to customers.
Even some Linux advocates have worried about the danger of Linux
"forking" into several different variants, just as Unix, an older
universal operating system divided into proprietary products sold
separately by IBM, Sun Microsystems Corp., and others.
Microsoft has been highlighting the specter of Linux fragmentation
recently as it works to stifle the spread of the rival in the
marketplace. It has run advertisements in Europe showing Linux penguins
with various appendages such as elephant trunks and frog feet, as a
warning to customers that its rival is likely to fragment into
incompatible variants. "It's a pretty good advertisement, I've got to
admit," says Mr. Zemlin.
The desire to counter Microsoft's Windows is creating a broad alliance.
Today's announcement also is expected to say that Linux competitors such
as Red Hat and the SuSE unit of Novell, have agreed to support the new
Linux standard, along with makers of other Linux versions known as
distributions. These include France's MandrakeSoft, Japan's Miracle
Linux, China's Sun Wah Linux and Brazil's Conectiva.
Jeff Hawkins, vice president of Novell's Linux business, said "we've
chosen to differentiate ourselves by offering support, and a higher
degree of reliability," rather than by adding incompatible features. He
said Novell can improve the performance of Linux and make it work on
larger systems while remaining compatible with the standards.
When special features are added to Linux operating software, makers of
application software and computers are forced to continually test to
make sure their products work with the variant Linux distributions.
Jeffrey Wade, a Linux marketing manager at H-P, said the new standard
"gives us an opportunity to cut costs," because "we can test to a
standard instead of for each distribution."
Dan Fry, vice president of IBM's Linux technology center, said the
danger of Linux forking has been overstated, because changes in Linux
itself are overseen by Finnish programmer Linus Torvaalds, who wrote the
first version and owns the trademark on Linux. However, "it's important
to have a standard that customers and software vendors can look to," Mr.
The standards push comes at a time when Microsoft executives have been
touting increased success in competing with Linux. "We're where we want
to be," in competitive marketing, said Martin Taylor, a Microsoft vice
president who was assigned to lead Microsoft's push against Linux last
year. He said that Microsoft is convincing customers that the total cost
of ownership of Linux is often higher than Windows despite the initial
higher purchase price for Windows, once the cost of support and updates
Linux backers said that Linux is continuing to gain ground against
Microsoft and Unix on many fronts. In a related development, IBM is
expected to announce today that it will start selling its first
Linux-only computer as a low-end competitor to cheap Unix computers made
by Sun and H-P. Previously, IBM sold Linux only as an alternative
operating system on its computers.
Write to William M. Bulkeley at bill.bulkeley at wsj.com
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