Vendors working to prevent Linux fragmentation
(IDG) -- Forking, the development of ever-so-slight (or possibly not-so-slight) differences between versions or distribution of a program, was of great concern at the recent LinuxWorld Expos in both Paris and New York.
At the former gathering, I spoke separately on the issue with Robert LeBlanc, vice president for software strategy of the IBM Software Group, and with Roland Dyroff, CEO of SuSE.
Both men noted their companies' strong support for the Linux Standards Base, the organization which is attempting to ensure interoperability and to prevent any Unix-like fragmentation of Linux. But they came at the issue from somewhat different perspectives. According to LeBlanc, "The concern in both the US and Europe is fragmentation."
He said IBM's customers and others have questions: "Does this thing fragment? Do we wind up with multiple different distributions of Linux, but it's not Linux because each has its own unique flavor?"
He said IBM has "been actively pushing -- because we're not a distributor of Linux and we made a conscious decision that we don't foresee, at least in the near future, being a Linux distributor -- [to support] the Linux Standards Base (LSB). We're driving an effort to get the LSB incorporated.
"We want to get that body to really be the body that keeps the Linux community together in terms of its APIs and the other standard pieces of Linux, because today it's really controlled by a set of individuals. And they've done a fabulous job of keeping it together, but you have to have something that's a little more structured and repeatable," LeBlanc said.
Dyroff, on the other hand, told me that while SuSE is "very active in and supporting [of] the LSB project ... we do not want to limit diversity and only maintain one single version of Linux, because we are talking about creative potential here and room for innovation.
"We're talking about competition pushing you into a direction if you get a little bit too slow at some points. But it's a very healthy process," he said.
Dyroff noted that the LSB "wants to provide a definition of a system [so] that an independent software vendor (ISV) has a target to port to." Dyroff explained, "That means if you are an ISV and your software works with LSB standard, then you can be sure that it properly installs and works on any Linux distribution that is compliant with that standard. While the project [has been] running now for quite a while, you should expect to get some new output very soon now."
On the other hand, Dyroff said that, at present, forking is not much of a problem. "I think the differences are not as big as they might appear now."
LeBlanc said that IBM tests its software products to make certain they work on what he calls the four major distributions -- Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE, and TurboLinux. "We've been doing testing of all of our products. For the most part, they are very compatible, because they all have a common kernel. It's when you start adding those additional packages on, in which you can get some uniqueness in the various distributions, that trouble could arise," he said.
"So today it's staying together, but as this thing grows from being very much a niche, which is kind of where Linux has been, to really becoming kind of mainstream, to the marketplace putting high market caps on some of these Linux companies. Does that keep the same kind of spirit and behavior? It's going to be a real test of time," he concluded.
Like Dyroff, LeBlanc believes the problem is nonexistent now, but that "the potential is there for forking, and that's why we're working closely with all the different distributors. That's the fundamental reason why we're supporting all the major distributors, rather than just one distributor," he said.
And LeBlanc is also concerned about the consequences of too stringent a standardization. "We don't think it's good to have one distributor having total control of the standard. We've seen that before and seen what's happened. That's why we're willing to play with the major distributors. To be honest with you, it takes more work with all the major distributors, but in the end we think that achieves the goals of ubiquity and consistency that the market really demands. And we want Linux to succeed."
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