Sun presumes Linux control

Convinced that the Linux community needs a "benevolent dictator," Sun Microsystems has sparked a battle over who controls Linux standards, as a growing number of vendors chase enterprise Linux dollars.

Signaling a coming-of-age for Linux in the enterprise, Sun has announced a stack of server-side Linux applications designed to compete with Microsoft Corp.'s .Net strategy and fuel Sun's ambitious plan to establish Linux on the desktop.

Sun will use its SunNetwork conference in San Francisco next month to outline its Linux desktop strategy and make it a more viable competitor to Windows.

Pledging compliance to the LSB (Linux Standard Base), as defined by Linux author Linus Torvalds, Sun used last week's LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco to attack competing Linux OS builds and strategies. Sun singled out companies, including IBM Corp. and Red Hat Inc., claiming that the former's failure to support LSB risked fragmenting Linux.

"I think we need to force the world to LSB compliance, not to Red Hat or IBM compliance," Sun CEO Scott McNealy said during his LinuxWorld Expo keynote address.

His statement preceded an announcement last week by the Free Standards Group that Red Hat and three other leading Linux distributions -- Caldera International Inc., MandrakeSoft SA, and SuSE Linux AG -- have been certified for Version 1.2 of the LSB. The LSB is designed to ensure compatibility among different Linux OS and application builds.

Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann denied any foot-dragging on his company's part. "Those accusations by Sun are totally unfounded. We have fully participated in [the LSB] process. About 80 percent of what constitutes LSB was contributed by Red Hat," he said.

Meanwhile, a quartet of vendors known as UnitedLinux announced that its first beta Linux distribution will be available to select ISVs in late August and to the public in September. The companies -- Caldera, SuSE, TurboLinux, and Conectiva SA -- launched UnitedLinux in part to unseat Red Hat.

The increased attention given to Linux by companies such as Sun, IBM, Oracle Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co. has brought the traditional debate over the Linux kernel and OS up to the platform level, observers said.

"Given the laserlike focus on [Sun's] own products, I have to be thinking its integrateable software stack may cause more incompatibility problems than cures, which could cause a technology rift in the [Linux] community," added John McIntyre, chief security officer of a large, San Francisco-based financial services company.

Ashlee Vance and Matt Berger -- correspondents with IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate -- contributed to this article.

Linux on the rise

IT executives get serious about adopting Linux in the enterprise.

* Linux accounts for 9 percent of IT budgets.

* Linux generates 20 percent of all IBM mainframe MIPS.

* Linux will out-ship all versions of Unix by the end of 2003.

Source: IDC, Giga Information Group Inc.

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