Linux Won't Fragment, Red Hat Chairman Says

SINGAPORE (03/23/2000) - Worries that the Linux operating system (OS) could fragment in the same way as Unix are unfounded, as there are no commercial incentives for companies to produce separate versions, according to Robert Young, chairman of Linux distributor Red Hat Inc.

Instead, maintaining a single version of the OS is important for all the players in the industry as Linux moves towards mainstream acceptance, Young said in his keynote address today at LinuxWorld 2000 here.

"In the Unix world, there was the ability to cause the OS to fork, and also the incentive," he said. "Companies would add a feature and tell the world their version was better. That caused other companies to bring out their own versions with additional features, fragmenting the OS."

It is the open-source nature of Linux that turns this proposition on its head, Young said.

"There is no incentive for Linux to fork - its primary value is its single kernel on which to build features for customers to use," he said. "Some companies which tried to fork the OS found themselves going down a dead end.

Everybody wants to work with the mainstream code and everybody shares the benefits equally."

The LSB (Linux standard base) standardization is an important move for the OS, but the history of Linux shows that even if LSB proves unworkable it would not be the disaster that some people believe, Young said.

"In 1995 and 1997 we were confident that Linux would not fork, simply because it had not yet done so," he said. "Then we realized that it hasn't forked because that means programmers have to do more of the difficult, repetitive maintenance work, rather than the fun stuff of building applications in the first place.

"I have real conviction that Linux will not fragment," he said.

Young said there were several other myths being perpetuated about Linux.

First, Linux is not something "built by a 16-year-old in a basement", as some people attempt to portray Linux originator Linus Torvalds, but an OS whose roots date back 30 years and that has been built by thousands of software professionals all over the world for their own use.

Second, Linux is not just a competitor for Microsoft Corp., it is a reinvention of the software technology model in favor of users.

"All those companies building proprietary software are using a broken technology model," he said. "The proprietary model makes no sense when open-source technology can deliver better and faster products."

Open-source companies such as Red Hat are able to use teams of software engineers worldwide via the Internet, resources that even Microsoft cannot match. This cooperative community of programmers and users inevitably means that open-source software is likely to be more secure, more reliable and better tested than any single-company product can be, Young said"It is a David and Goliath battle," he said. "But we are Goliath and Microsoft is David."

Linuxworld 2000 began today and continues until March 25 at the Suntec Center in Singapore.

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