The Linux Standard Base project this week reported on its attempt to assure compatibility between Linux versions without stifling innovation.
Project leader Daniel Quinlan reported on the project's progress in a conference session at the LinuxWorld show in San Jose.
With the growing success of Linux comes an increased risk of the platform fragmenting. On Tuesday, yet another company, Corel, announced that it would ship its own version of the open source operating system.
The development of the Linux kernel is tightly controlled by its author, Linus Torvalds. But for the other operating systems components, the various commercial and non-commercial Linux versions (or ?distributions?) have considerable freedom. This means that applications written for one Linux version will not always run unmodified on another version.
?The danger that we are trying to avoid with the Linux Standard Base (LSB) is Linux fragmentation,? said Daniel Quinlan, who is a network engineer at Transmeta, the highly secretive Santa Clara corporation that also employs Linux Torvalds.
But Quinlan said LSB must not only address the real danger of fragmentation, but also send a clear message to counter ?Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt? - or FUD - surrounding the open source platform.
The goal of LSB is to assure a basic level of binary compatibility across Linux distributions. Applications written to LSB will run on all Linux versions that support the standard, Quinlan said. Additionally, the LSB project would like to make sure that Linux distributions look and behave more alike.
?We don?t want to tread on the distributions. We want them to be unique,? said Quinlan. ?We think it?s good that there are five or six major distributions, and that they are each good at different things.?
The LSB project is working at three levels. First, it is defining a written specification that defines basic Linux operating system functionality. Second, it is creating test suites to check applications and operating systems for compliance. And third, the LSB project will deliver its own sample implementation of Linux, which will be available freely.
At present, LSB is in the very early stages. It has not even been decided which aspects of the operating system will be covered by the standard, though support for Posix.1, Glibc and X.11 are certain to be included.
Quinlan said a 1.0 version of the spec and the test suites should be released within 6 to 12 months, with a sample implementation possibly following a bit later.
Most of the Linux vendors have said they support the LSB project. ?We?re extremely excited about LSB,? said Ransom Love, president and chief executive of Caldera.
But Robert Young, chairman and chief executive of Red Hat Software, downplayed the risk of Linux fragmentation. ?Over time, Linux has always merged back into a common standard, without the overhead of a standards organisation,? said Young. However, he added that Red Hat Software was supportive of the LSB project.
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