The Linux community was taken aback recently when a new organisation appeared out of nowhere promising standards for the ?open source? operating system.
The Linux Standards Association (LSA) has already received criticism from some fiercely loyal Linux followers. They believe the software has developed well without standards, although they are planning a standards structure themselves.
LSA?s aim is to create formal standards similar to Unix 98 for Unix, explained Ian Nandhra, president and chief executive of NC Laboratories, which is also a LSA charter member.
The specifications, which took 18 months to developed, had been created with the Linux community, continued Nandhra. "[The LSA] is a labour of love. There are absolutely no financial gains. We are set up as a non profit organization," he continued.
The existing specs are and will continue to be freely available, reiterated Nandhra.
Linux is a hugely popular operating system installed on an estimated six to 10 million computers worldwide. Born the same time as the World Wide Web, Linux was developed over the Net under the direction of Linus Torvalds of the University of Helsinki, Finland.
What started as a one-man attempt soon grew into a major development effort. Over the Internet, Torvalds assembled a group of like-minded programmers and by 1992 the first version of Linux became available.
Torvalds makes sure the system is freely available, although he and a number of other authors, retain rights to the code they developed.
A perpetual work in progress, Linux is tweaked and revised daily by Linux loyalists and thousands of programmers at large. They are welcome to submit suggested changes and fixes to Linux distributors.
A number of organisations, Red Hat Software and Caldera among them, have added software to the Linux base code, or kernel. This creates ?distributions?, which are, in effect, complete ready to run systems.
Red Hat Software's president and chief executive Bob Young, was very cool towards the LSA saying it is something "we don't know much about -- besides the two guys running it who have a couple of good ideas are not very influential in the Linux world. And so while the ideas they have been proposing sound very attractive they are not in fact very realistic."
He added: "As a standards body in the Linux space, they have no credibility so I kind of wish them luck on the initiative, but we aren't taking them very seriously."
Young also said Netscape, Oracle and Informix - which are all committed to porting their applications to Linux - are not interested in what the LSA is trying to do.
There is already a standards organisation within the Linux community, called Linux International (LI), which delivers a version of the operating system to Netscape, Oracle and Informix.
LI has been around for three years and is sponsoring a project called Linux Standards Base (LSB). According to Jon Hall, LI executive director, LSB should help the Linux community, but has never been under LI?s direct control.
"LI's membership realised that having the standards effort fail was not good for the community, so we asked the community to help us salvage the effort," Hall said.
Hall pointed out that none of this work entails changing the Linux kernel to meet the Posix standards or Unix 98 standards. "LI felt it was more important to make sure that ISVs have a common, solid platform which met most of the Posix standards and quite a few of the Unix 98 standards, than meet every single bit of them," he said.
The question of standards was summed up by one online user who said, "LSA is but one of many attempts to create a written standard for Linux. It's the only one which asks for money to be allowed to participate in defining standards. The Linux Compatibility Standard put forth by Red Hat and Caldera is open to everyone. LSA is a closed project. Linux is an open one and open projects should not have closed standards."
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