A specification unveiled last week may hasten the day IT managers can buy a Linux application and be confident it will run on any vendor's version of the open source operating system.
The Free Standards Group, which includes IBM Corp., Red Hat Inc., TurboLinux Inc. and Oracle Corp., also fashioned the specification to simplify development for independent software vendors and corporations. The group has made Version 1.0 of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) available for download at www.linux base.org/spec/.
LSB is a programmatic interface that lets vendors and in-house developers avoid writing multiple versions of applications for various iterations of the Linux platform. It simplifies the work they need to do, in contrast with Unix software, which requires separate versions of an application for AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and Tru64 Unix. For instance, when a software vendor, such as Veritas, introduces software, its products may initially be only available on HP-UX and Solaris platforms.
"For [customers] it means that they can shop for 'Linux applications' without having to worry about which vendor's [Linux distribution] it works with," says Alan Cox, a kernel hacker in Wales. Cox, a well-known developer in the Linux community, is responsible for maintaining patches to the Linux kernel and wrote much of its symmetric multiprocessing and networking code.
Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, says companies will benefit from LSB.
"Indirectly, the impact [of LSB] will be large on [enterprise deployments]," Raymond says. "As independent software vendors develop confidence that they can maintain a single Linux binary port for all LSB-conformant distributions, many more enterprise applications will become available."
One IT manager sees benefits beyond easier development.
"This standard might be comforting to organizations that need an insurance policy," says Michael Jinks, a member of the technical staff at financial software vendor Saecos in Chicago. "For example, 'Bigcorp Inc.' might feel that it has some leverage against Red Hat if Red Hat ever decided to attempt vendor lock-in with their distribution and thus be more comfortable with a Red Hat deployment." Companies used to dealing with closed source software vendors might be reassured by LSB, he says.
While some observers say vendors may use LSB to influence the direction of Linux, Raymond says that is not possible. "LSB is maintained by community developers, not corporate committees," he says.
Vendors such as IBM and Caldera Systems Inc. will incorporate LSB compatibility into their products as soon as test software and certification procedures are available.