Bridging Linux language barriers

The first results of an effort to ensure that different versions of the operating system will work similarly are released.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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3 min read
NEW YORK--On Thursday an industry consortium of the largest server and Linux sellers released the first results of an effort to ensure that different versions of Linux will work similarly.

The Free Standards Group released version 1.1 of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) as well as the first version of the Linux Internationalization Initiative standard to deal with Linux language barriers.

The standards will make it easier for software companies such as Oracle to bring their programs to Linux, said Scott McNeil, executive director of the Free Standards Group, at a news conference. Oracle will know what Linux features can be expected, not only from one company's version of Linux to another, but across newer versions of the same company's product.

"It helps define the core foundation of the operating system," McNeil said.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, SuSE, Red Hat, Caldera International, Turbolinux and Ximian announced the standard at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here.

Synopsys, a company whose software is used to design microchips, "got very excited" about the LSB, said Martin Fink, general manager of HP's Linux Systems Operation. Once Synopsys found out about the effort, the company started encouraging their rivals to back it so that supporting Linux would become simpler.

Although this simplification will help draw more software companies to Linux, companies still will have to certify that their software works with a particular version.

"LSB certainly is a great foundation, but I can imagine you also will see certification for particular distributions as well," said Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering at Red Hat.

And it will take time. Though Red Hat's basic version of Linux will comply with LSB this year, its coming high-end Advanced Server version initially won't, said Chief Technology Officer Michael Tiemann. And with that product being updated once every 12 to 18 months, it will be well into 2003 before it does comply.

Red Hat, the dominant Linux company, doesn't have as much to worry about because most software companies certify their programs to work with Red Hat's version first. But Tiemann said LSB will ensure that software companies will have an easier time dealing with upgrades, which come every six months or so. Without that stability, software makers would have to constantly spend money to re-certify software.

"I personally believe LSB 1.1 and following (versions) will help Red Hat much more than everyone else," said Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook. Red Hat already has the best software support, so anything that encourages software companies to back Linux will help Red Hat disproportionately, he said.

The standard, along with software that checks whether a version of Linux or software that runs on Linux complies with the standard, governs some basic parts of Linux--for example, which "libraries" of reusable software components are available, what basic commands Linux can execute, or where to find specific programs in the file system.

Major Linux companies endorsed the standards and said they'll make sure their versions of Linux will comply.

"Developers can develop once and have it run in all areas of the world," said Caldera Chief Executive Ransom Love, noting that different versions of Linux prevail in different parts of the world. "For Linux to go to the next level of acceptance, of broad use, we've got to come together collectively."

The LSB released version 1.0 in beta testing form in July, then expanded it before settling on version 1.1 as the standard that should be adopted, McNeil said.