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New Consortium Should Outdo UnitedLinux

A Little Love, A Little Luck, and a Whole Lot of Vision

  • November 22, 2004
  • By Brian Proffitt

Linux industry observers were quick to draw comparisons between the Linux Core Consortium (LCC) and the pretty much dead and buried UnitedLinux commercial entity when the Consortium was announced last week.

And while one of the founding members of the LCC agrees such comparisons are fair, it soon becomes evident that these two efforts are very different in terms of structure and goals.

The LCC, announced last week, is a development framework involving four commercial Linux companies from all over the globe. Initiated by the US firm Progeny Linux Systems, Inc., the LCC includes Mandrakesoft, Conectiva, and Turbolinux. The main focus of the new group is to help build and implement a new Linux Standards Base (LSB) core that will serve as the central point for each of the companies' enterprise distributions: Mandrakelinux Corporate Server, Conectiva Enterprise Server, Turbolinux Enterprise Server, and Progeny Componentized Linux.

Ian Murdock, Chairman and Chief Strategist of Progeny, is pretty excited about the prospects for LCC, since it will pull together the resources of four commercial entities and help make more Linux distributions more attractive to Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), which Murdock sees as a hurdle for Linux deployment.

Murdock, speaking in an interview today, gave some background into the formation of the LCC, and why it looked so attractive to the invited companies. Murdock, who has long been a proponent of a centralized, standardized Linux base, knows that in order for a Linux company to succeed and grow, then they have to make their product more attractive to developers as well as customers. In the Linux development community, many distributions attract different developers, which spreads the effort somewhat. Murdock believes that by more developers working towards a unified Linux, many obstacles to Linux' success in the IT arena will be eliminated.

When talks began regarding LCC, Murdock realized that Progeny was not alone in his thinking. "I think all four companies have been looking to do something like this in their own ways," he explained. "Together, we're stronger than we are individually."

Finding that they all had common goals helped get the idea for LCC past the initial talking stages. What also helped was that two of these firms had already tried something like this before, in the form of UnitedLinux.

Brazil's Conectiva and Japan's Turbolinux were founding members of the now-defunct UnitedLinux, a commercial entity that shared some of the goals LCC now has, but was structured much differently. UnitedLinux, since it was a separate commercial entity, was designed to produce and promote a separate, marketable distribution--ideally intended to go up against Red Hat.

The downfall of UnitedLinux has been attributed to many things: from the near-complete engineering responsibility of the product by member SUSE Linux instead of a more shared effort, to the outright hostile actions taken by UnitedLinux's remaining founding member Caldera, now The SCO Group.

This history, though, has already given the LCC a valuable gift: that of lessons learned. Through their experiences of UnitedLinux, Murdock explained, Turbolinux and Conectiva were able to provide the consortium with valuable insights into what worked and what didn't with UnitedLinux. In that respect, the LCC already has a leg up on which pitfalls to avoid.

The LCC also has another veteran of the UnitedLinux years: former Caldera CEO Ransom Love, who joined Progeny's Board of Directors in November 2003. When he joined the company last year, Love and Murdock made no secret that Progeny would use Love's experience and vision to try to create a better UnitedLinux. Love is credited for creating the initial idea for UnitedLinux.

Love's assistance has been invaluable, Murdock said, though as a member of the board, he does not participate in day-to-day affairs at Progeny. He has rendered help in terms of advice, focus, what mistakes to avoid, and the ever-important business connections. Love was able to make the introductions for Murdock to Conectiva CEO Jaques Rosenzvaig, for instance.

Unlike UnitedLinux, the LCC is not a commercial entity. Murdock and the Progeny team describe it in much looser terms. "It's a development framework," said Director of Marketing Jolene Watkins, "We're using existing standards and enhancing them for existing products."

This non-commercial status is a key difference that should help LCC grow. Since the efforts of the Consortium will go towards a LSB 2.0-based core that all members can use, the open nature of LCC should attract more particpants.

Some industry observers have pointed out Red Hat and Novell's separation from this group as a potential problem. Murdock sees it as a way for these two companies to meet words with deeds. Red Hat and Novell have both publically supported the LCC, but Murdock thinks they may not want to go any farther.

"Beyond their talk about supporting open standards, both Red Hat and Novell have the volume and the resources to attract more ISVs," Murdock said. Why, then, would they share standards when they already own them, he added.

It is this attraction of ISVs that plays a critical role in any Linux distribution's life, Murdock explained. If an application is certified by a software vendor to work with a Linux distribution, then that vendor will be willing to provide support for that application/distribution combination.

Highlighting the relationship Red Hat has with Oracle as an example, Murdock said that if an Oracle/Red Hat installation goes down in the middle of the night, a customer could expect Oracle to provide support. On the other hand, Oracle could probably run on Debian GNU/Linux, and run well. But Debian is not certified by Oracle, so if the Oracle/Debian installation went down in the middle of the night, then all bets for support would be off.

The differences between distributions are often minor, but they are enough for ISVs to proclaim that it is simply not possible to certify and support their products on all these different distros. This is why, Murdock said, Red Hat has such a strong presence in the market.

"Whether they want to admit it or not," he added, "they are pursuing vendor lock-in via ISV certifications."

Murdock hopes the efforts of the LCC will change that.

By creating a single standard core that member distributions will use, ISVs should be able to certify their products for one LCC core that will ultimately be supportable in a variety of distributions. The distributions gain the advantage of even more applications to market to custokmers, and ISVs gain the ability to increase market share in channels and geographic regions they might not otherwise have been able to tap into.

Right now, the LCC has a lot on its plate as it begins the process of setting up a technology and procedural infrastructure to accomplish its goals. The Consortium plans to work closely with the LSB Futures group as well as various standards groups within OSDL. As its own members commoditize various elements of Linux, then more pieces of software will be added to the LCC core.

Ideally, the LCC hopes to gain direct involvement from ISVs as it moves forward. And, Murdock emphasized, ultimately the project will move towards open source so that more members of the development community can have their input.

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