But Red Hat, which ships about 50 percent of Linux software, isn't part of the group, a decision that could undermine its value, analysts said.
U.S. companies Caldera International and Turbolinux, Germany's SuSE, and Brazil's Conectiva said Thursday that they have created the UnitedLinux organization to develop a standard version of the Linux operating system for businesses. Under terms of the deal, all four companies will collaborate on one common Linux operating system, also called UnitedLinux.
Linux is an open-source operating system that has gained popularity in recent years as an alternative to other versions of Unix and to Microsoft's Windows operating system.
The four companies said that UnitedLinux will be more compatible with software and hardware, a move that could help promote the adoption of Linux globally. Around 40 percent of companies in North America and Western Europe already use or are testing Linux, according to research firm IDC, which did a survey of 800 businesses in 2001.
The companies also plan to pour money into research and development to strengthen Linux against competing operating systems.
However, the lack of participation by Red Hat in the UnitedLinux alliance is a problem, analysts said. UnitedLinux is Linux Standard Base specification backed by Red Hat, according to IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky.to the
"Red Hat is still the largest supplier of Linux by shipment," said Kusnetzky, who estimated that Red Hat ships about twice as many copies of Linux as the four UnitedLinux founders combined. "This deal is not likely to have enormous success because the market leader is not part of it."
On Wednesday, Red Hatits own alliance to strengthen its relationship with hardware and software makers.
The significance of the UnitedLinux alliance is that it will help the four companies to succeed from a business perspective by cutting engineering costs, Kusnetzky said.
By creating a standard for business use, UnitedLinux hopes to make distribution easier for hardware and software vendors who have had to certify their products to work with all of the Linux distributions. Businesses will now have a greater selection of products that are certified to work with Linux, and better services and support.
Software and hardware makers, which include AMD, Borland Software, Computer Associates International, Fujitsu Siemens, Fujitsu Japan, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, NEC, Progress Software and SAP, said they support the effort.
Kusnetzky said the deal wouldn't really change anything from an industrywide perspective because Red Hat is already working to establish standards through the Linux Standard Base specification. Of the four members of LinuxUnited, only Conectiva is not listed as a current contributor to the Linux Standard Base on the organization's Web site.
Most of the companies that support the new organization continue to support Red Hat.
"IBM will also continue to support Red Hat Linux across its key hardware, software and services offerings," the company said in a press release Thursday.
UnitedLinux said it would use the money that once maintained its own unique Linux environments to fund a massive research and development project.
The four partners will each market a different version of the new software, with their own products and services added in. The tailored versions are expected to be sold by the partners under their own brands by the end the year.
The software will have local language support and training, aiding in the global adoption of Linux. UnitedLinux will support installations in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese languages. UnitedLinux will also support IBM's eServer product line, several of AMD's applications, and Intel's Itanium family of processor.
But most of those products are based on Red Hat Linux, Kusnetzky said.
"It's like walking down the bleach aisle in a grocery store," he said. "The only difference is the packaging, perfume and color. The chemicals inside are the same."
The organization said additional Linux companies are welcome to join.