[AG-TECH] Linux Backers to Support Single Standard

Ed Ritenour erritenour at lbl.gov
Mon Sep 13 15:02:05 CDT 2004


Linux Backers to Support Standard

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 
partially incompatible.

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. 
Fry said.

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 
is added.

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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