Finding common ground in Linux

Four Linux distributors recently decided to get together and combine efforts to lessen the cost of development. Caldera International Inc. in Lindon, Utah, Conectiva S.A. in Curitiba, Brazil, SuSE Linux AG in Nuremberg, Germany, and Turbolinux Inc. in Brisbane, Calif., have formed UnitedLinux.

UnitedLinux is a standards-based version of the operating system targeted at the business user. It is being developed, marketed and sold by an experienced partnership of Linux companies.

Curt Porritt, director of strategic development for Caldera, said there are a lot of differing distributions on the market, and it can get very expensive to develop.

One of the main reasons for this initiative is to offer a standards-based Linux architecture, he added.

David Freund, and analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata, said the group is not necessarily bringing anything to the market that wasn’t already there. But by offering a common core that just about every vendor would otherwise have to develop, they have the ability to define their core on an industry standard.

“Any software vendor that has created a Linux product has to worry about distribution. UnitedLinux is saying, ‘What if we provided a common architecture and you only had to certify it once? We’ve eased development costs,'” Freund said.

One speculation was that this venture could take a bite out of Red Hat’s significant Linux market share. But Freund said that’s unlikely, given Red Hat’s market position.

“They are the tier one. Everyone distributes on Red Hat. I think they hope by combining they will look large enough to be a viable choice to Red Hat.”

Red Hat was invited to work with the initiative the day after UnitedLinux partnership was announced, according to Freund.

Evan Leibovitch, chairman of the Linux Professional Institute board in Brampton, Ont., said it’s no secret that the UnitedLinux backers play second fiddle to Red Hat, so pooling their resources without merging is a good idea.

“This is good for people who want to develop or do training on Linux. Until now, individuals had to cope with all these differences. Now they have one base that will run identically on all these systems,” he said.

Porritt said other vendors and organizations will be invited to join in with UnitedLinux. “We think other Linux companies will have to make some tough decisions in the next few weeks.”

Leibovitch said the Linux market is still growing enough that participants do not have to go at each other.

He noted that the four companies have traditionally been in the forefront of trying to get Linux in the enterprise, which has not made them seem user-group friendly. “They all have reputations for doing hybrids. So some purists may not be too crazy about them. But given the market, there really is enough room for everyone.”