Linux vendors to rally behind desktop standard

More than a dozen technology companies, including IBM Corp. Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc., are planning to support a new integrated server and desktop Linux standard unveiled at next week’s Linux Desktop Summit by the Free Standards Group (FSG).

The FSG is a nonprofit organization that has worked for years on a number of open standards including a server specification called the Linux Standard Base. In October the group announced plans to work on a desktop standard, called the Linux Standard Base Desktop Project.

Those two Linux standards have now been integrated into a new version 3.1 of the Linux Standard Base, which is set to be released next week.

“This … will make it easier for application developers to target the complete Linux platform; thereby solving a major hindrance for Linux desktop adoption,” the FSG said Wednesday in a statement.

A number of Linux providers, including Red Hat, Novell, the Ubuntu Linux project, and Linspire Inc. are expected to certify their products as compliant to the new LSB standard, according to the FSG.

IBM, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Dell Inc. also support the initiative, the FSG said.

While Linux has been a successful server operating system, it has not been widely adopted on the desktop, in part because software developers have been reluctant to create Linux versions of their desktop software.

Matters are not helped by the fact that Linux supports two competing desktop environments, called Gnome and KDE, making it hard for developers to create one piece of software that will run on all versions of Linux.

“The problem with standards on Linux is that there are currently too many of them,” said Gregory Raiz, president of Raizlabs Corp., a software company in Brookline, Massachusetts.

“Developers want to be able to write to a standard and know that their application is going to work on all desktops.”

The Free Software Group hopes that its combined LSB standard will eventually achieve that goal, but it will be hard work to create a standard that is compatible with both KDE and Gnome, said Bruce Perens, vice president of professional services with open-source vendor Sourcelabs Inc.

“How they’re going to pull it off will be interesting,” he said. “If we actually unified the desktops would we do it by creating a third interface? And are we sure that that’s helping?”

In the end, the Linux providers may be forced to simply choose one desktop, he said.

Either way, the FSG project is addressing an important need by attempting to unify Gnome and KDE, Perens said. “I would love for there to be software like this and I would like it to be as easy to program as either of these desktops.”

The Linux Desktop Summit is being held in San Diego on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

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