Linux consortium takes on Red Hat

UnitedLinux, a group of four second-tier Linux companies working to catch leader Red Hat, releases its first version of the open-source operating system.

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3 min read

LAS VEGAS--UnitedLinux, a consortium of four second-tier Linux companies working to catch leader Red Hat, released its first version of the open-source operating system on Tuesday.

And as expected, two partners in the effort, SuSE in Germany and the SCO Group in Utah, announced packages based on the version at a news conference at the Comdex Fall 2002 trade show here. The other partners in the alliance are Turbolinux in Japan and Conectiva in Brazil.

UnitedLinux allies sell the same operating system, but distinguish themselves from one another through different sales strategies and higher-level products such as management software. Several of the UnitedLinux members compete for the same customers while cooperating on the underlying software.

The group's product is a major milestone in the effort to steal some of the momentum of market leader Red Hat, which, according to research company IDC, garnered nearly three quarters of Linux revenue in 2001.

The UnitedLinux allies recognize that they've got some catching up to do, but they believe they'll win out in the end.

"If you think about a horse race, we're really getting out of the starting gate right now," said Darl McBride, chief executive of the SCO Group. "We're maybe not the first horse on the track, but we think before the race is done, we'll be at the front."

Analysts don't expect UnitedLinux to turn the tables on Red Hat, but the effort is likely to make it simpler for hardware and software companies to certify that their products work well with UnitedLinux versions.

Hewlett-Packard and IBM support UnitedLinux on their servers and sent executives to show their support at Tuesday's news conference. Dell Computer has an exclusive partnership with Red Hat.

Software companies that are working on certifying their products with UnitedLinux include database seller Oracle, business software maker SAP, management software maker Computer Associates, and developer-tools company Borland, UnitedLinux general manager Paula Hunter said. IBM is working on certifying its DB2 database and its WebSphere e-business software, added Steve Solazzo, IBM's Linux general manager.

"They can certify once with one of our partners, and that certification flows globally to the other partners," Hunter said. UnitedLinux also will mean a more predictable cycle of product upgrades that's easier to plan around.

Rick Becker, general manager of HP's Linux group, said UnitedLinux will advance the cause of standardization, an ideal HP frequently trumpets. "We're committed to certify all our servers, both IA-32 (such as Pentium and Xeon) servers and (those based on the) Itanium processor family," Becker said.

SuSE is the lead developer for the UnitedLinux software, according to Holger Dyroff, general manager of SuSE's American operations. The 380-person company hired 15 SCO Group programmers, and its version of Linux was adopted as the foundation of UnitedLinux.

"We are carrying about 90 percent of the overall development cost," Dyroff said, with other UnitedLinux allies reimbursing SuSE for the work.

SuSE long has supported not just servers based on Intel processors, but also three IBM server lines: the pSeries servers that typically run Unix, the iSeries systems for larger companies, and the top-end zSeries mainframes for the largest customers.

UnitedLinux previously involved only Intel server versions, but Dyroff said the alliance has expanded to include support for IBM's full product line. That builds on a partnership between two of the allies, SuSE and Turbolinux.

SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, now released, and based on UnitedLinux 1.0, brings SuSE's product to new heights. It supports as much as 64GB of memory, can address 600 hard drives as if they were one and can operate on 32-processor servers, SuSE said. It costs $749, including a year's worth of support.

Becker and others are skeptical that Linux works well beyond 8-processor servers, but they do laud the abilities of Linux programmers to advance how well the Unix clone works on high-end servers.

SCO made a bolder shift Tuesday, switching from its earlier version of Linux to SCO Linux 4, based on UnitedLinux. The software costs $599, $699, $1,249 or $2,199, depending on levels of support.

Turbolinux said its UnitedLinux-based version is "coming soon."

Hunter said UnitedLinux has no plans for a desktop version of the OS--a more direct assault on Microsoft along the lines of those launched by SuSE, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems. However, McBride said desktop Linux was a subject the UnitedLinux technical committee will begin evaluating.