January 21, 2007 8:00 PM PST

Two Linux consortia band together

The Open Source Developer Labs and the Free Standards Group, two groups trying to standardize and steer Linux, have merged in an effort to increase their influence.

The new group is called the Linux Foundation, the companies plan to announce Monday. "It made sense to combine two organizations that serve a similar function and have a lot of similar members," said Jim Zemlin, who had been executive director of the Free Standards Group and now is leader of the foundation.

Both groups possess a prestigious list of corporate sponsors, but neither attained the influence of industry players such as Red Hat, which dominates the commercial Linux market and whose version of the open-source operating system is something of a de facto standard.

"If you're a Linux product manager at company XYZ, there are only so many hours in the day. It's helpful to have a centralized resource."
--Jim Zemlin, head of Linux Foundation

But it's possible the foundation could be stronger than the separate groups it replaces, said Ideas International analyst Tony Iams--in particular if the technical relationships from OSDL could be used to bolster the FSG's standardization work. Standards work is becoming more important as customers' needs for stability bump up against the free-wheeling developer community that often sets the Linux agenda.

"The backwards-compatibility issue is starting to rear its head with new (Linux) releases coming out," Iams said. "If you look between the lines, you will start to see cracks showing up in terms of running older applications."

OSDL, which employs Linux founder Linus Torvalds, was established in 2000 to try to improve the operating system for high-end servers. It has expanded into various other technical domains, but in 2006 scaled back operations.

The Free Standards Group has overseen the Linux Standard Base, or LSB, an effort to stabilize the interface between the operating system and higher-level applications so software runs on different varieties of Linux without modification.

Together, the foundation will have about 45 full-time and contract employees. In December, OSDL cut its staff and lost its chief executive, Stuart Cohen.

Zemlin hopes the group's collective influence will be a better match for Microsoft when it comes to managing trademarks, standardizing software interfaces, providing programmers with protection from intellectual property threats, and handling interactions with industry partners.

"It can focus resources in one place," Zemlin said. "If you're a Linux product manager at company XYZ, there are only so many hours in the day. It's helpful to have a centralized resource."

Although the major commercial sellers support the LSB and it's won endorsements from software companies such as Computer Associates and Oracle, Zemlin acknowledges that there's still work to be done. "We're at bat. We haven't hit a home run," he said of LSB. "It's been around a long time and has had fits and starts."

But the standardization effort is moving ahead--most recently with work being done in Russia to build certification testing software--and customers will begin requiring LSB compatibility "fairly soon," Zemlin said.

And there are relevant standardization tasks under way. OSDL's Portland project, which seeks to bridge the KDE and GNOME graphical interfaces for Linux, is being incorporated into an updated new LSB standard. The Linux Foundation could also assist with an online printer support software repository and could be helpful setting up common management software interfaces, Zemlin said. Another effort seeks to bridge two prevailing methods for handling software update or installation packages.

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