By George Weiss and Andrew Butler, Gartner Analysts
The Linux community urgently needs a common platform, but the UnitedLinux initiative faces hurdles.
The four companies from three continents that have formed UnitedLinux aim to brand it as a common Linux server platform. Their initial group of 10 partners includes some of the biggest names in the Linux movement, but not the biggest name in Linux distributions--Red Hat. Red Hat has formed its own alliance for its Advanced Server (announced in March 2002) and says it has the commitment of 80 independent software vendors (ISVs), including Oracle, which has not publicly endorsed UnitedLinux.
The four vendors will commit resources to releasing a standard platform, including booting, installation, development, runtime, updates and support. One paid employee at UnitedLinux will direct the alliance branding process. Applications tested against the platform's standard, which will include the Linux Standards Base (LSB) effort, will be certified as meeting the UnitedLinux specifications.
Both ISVs and hardware vendors should welcome the potential for UnitedLinux to reduce the costs and complexities of supporting Linux. The partners have stated that UnitedLinux will focus on Intel's IA32 (and emerging Itanium 64-bit) processors and will also support IBM's eServer range.
The concept of UnitedLinux is sound in principle and urgently needed. But this venture could splinter in many ways:
• Unless UnitedLinux includes, or provides close convergence with, Red Hat's distribution, it will not mean "one Linux." While not absolutely essential for the group's success, Red Hat's large North American market share presents added difficulty for ISVs, especially as enhancements to enterprise operating system spur more possibilities of divergence.
• A key organizational unit for branding and certification that has only one paid, full-time employee will not likely have the bandwidth to assure complete integrity and backward compatibility for thousands of applications. UnitedLinux must designate registered third parties.
• It is not clear how the Open Source Development Lab, LSB and many other Linux organizations and efforts (for instance, in high availability and file systems) will coordinate their work and agree on inclusions and upgrades.
• Also doubtful is whether consensus will be feasible if outsiders such as Red Hat, Oracle, Veritas Software and MandrakeSoft want to join.
The UnitedLinux effort takes a step forward in consolidating multiple versions of Linux. But the execution is in the details, and it may still fall short of what is required.
(For a related commentary on a recent IBM Linux initiative, see gartner.com.)
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