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Linux leaders downplay splintering

Software distributors acknowledge the problem at LinuxWorld, but they don't fear the operating system will become saddled with different versions.

SAN JOSE--Splintering is an issue for the Linux community, Linux software distributors acknowledged today, but ultimately they don't fear that the operating system will become saddled with different versions.

In the proprietary world of Unix, a related operating system, the incentive has been to add new features to give that "flavor" a competitive advantage. But in the "open source" world, good new features are naturally adopted by everyone, observed Robert Young, chief executive of Red Hat, the dominant Linux distributor.

"Over time, Linux has always merged back into a single standard," said Young, whose firm claims between 55 and 70 percent of the Linux market, according to Computer Associates, a new Red Hat partner.

Open source developers long have been aware of--and rival Microsoft has often pointed out--the phenomenon of "code forking," in which different programmers pursue different avenues, leading to different versions of what was once the same software. In open source programming, any person can get access to the source code, or original programming instructions.

Cliff Miller, chief executive of Pacific Hi-Tech, another Linux distributor, said he'd like to see the effort to keep Linux unified "become a little more active." Miller encouraged IBM and other corporations getting involved in Linux to keep the unification effort on track.

For example, one issue currently dividing some in the Linux world is the choice of which graphical user interface to use, the two chief contenders being K Desktop Environment (KDE) and Gnome.

Ransome Love, chief executive of Caldera Systems, endorsed the Linux Standard Base, an organization chartered to keep Linux from fragmenting. Keeping Linux unified is important to acceptance of the operating system in the business world, which Caldera Systems is targeting with its products.

And Robert LeBlanc of IBM noted at a news conference that IBM "would support anything to keep the platform open and standards-based." However, according to the Linux Standard Base Web page, IBM is not yet a member.

In other news
The announcements were flying fast and furious at the LinuxWorld Expo today, with Linux deals and products coming from IBM, Computer Associates, VA Research, and many other companies that want to benefit from the popularity of the Unix-like operating system.

As expected, IBM announced an adoption of Linux across several parts of its company.

Big Blue announced around-the-clock technical support to back up its Linux hardware, which includes both Intel-based Netfinity servers and its Power chip-based RS/6000 computers. IBM's support will cover the Linux distributions from Red Hat, Caldera Systems, Pacific Hi-Tech, and SuSE.

IBM is working with LinuxPPC to get Linux working on its RS/6000 machines, including models based both the PowerPC chip and the newer Power3 chip.

IBM also announced it would be selling its WebSphere, Host On-Demand, and On-Demand Server software for Linux. LeBlanc said the company has made some of its software available under open source terms, and the company was evaluating whether to release three or four other products. He declined to name the products, however.

The company currently has no plans to offer Linux on its AS/400 or S/390 systems, LeBlanc said.

Also today, VA Research announced round-the-clock, on-site technical support in North America. In addition, the company will sell its computers with Oracle database software and Netscape enterprise server products preloaded, said VA chief executive Larry Augustin.

In addition, under a deal with Red Hat, Computer Associates will give away a half million copies of its Unicenter TNG software packaged along with Red Hat's Linux. The software is used to keep track of all the different hardware details across large company computer networks. In addition, the next-generation Unicenter TND also will be available under Linux, he said.

As part of the deal, Red Hat also will sell the software with its application CD, said Red Hat's Paul McNamara.

Compaq announced today that versions of its Intel-based ProLiant servers will be certified as Linux-ready, though the PC giant will leave it to resellers to install the operating system. The company also donated an Alpha-based DS/20 server to Linux founder Linus Torvalds.

Linux is a Unix-like operating system developed by Torvalds and countless other programmers across the Internet. It's growing both in popularity and reputation, and most of the computing industry has moved to embrace it in one way or another in recent months.