Researchers get EU funding for Linux project

A group of European research institutions and open-source software companies has launched an effort to build new tools that will make it easier to do complex IT projects based on Linux and other open-source software, they said this week.

The group has secured Euro 2.2 million (US$2.9 million) from the European Union (E.U.) and additional funding from its participants, for a total of Euro 3.4 million. Those taking part include the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (known as INRIA), Tel-Aviv University, the University of Zurich and Linux software vendor Mandrakesoft, they announced Tuesday.

The group hopes to build software development and management tools that will cut the costs and complexity of large IT projects, particularly those using Linux. The tools will be especially useful to consultants who build custom versions of Linux for projects, and could also be used to shorten development cycles for Linux operating system vendors, according to Stefane Fermigier, chief executive of Nuxeo, a French software vendor that is also part of the project.

The E.U. agreed to help fund the project as part of its broader effort to make Europe more competitive in IT, Fermigier said. Some European governments have been promoting the use of open source software as a way to cut costs and reduce dependency on non-European vendors.

Most modern Linux distributions are composed of thousands of individual software "packages," or components, Fermigier said, any number of which may be used in a given project. The job of integrating those components, as well as keeping track of their internal dependencies and the software versions being used, could be made far easier if better tools were available, he said.

"There's an issue any large project has to deal with at some point, and that's how to manage complex dependencies between parts so as to get an integrated, coherent whole," Roberto Di Cosmo of University of Paris 7, another project member, said in the statement.

The researchers plan to develop two tools in particular. One will be a distributed peer-to-peer application to help system builders install and integrate software components running across dozens or even thousands of PCs and servers. That work is typically done today by loading the software from CDs or downloading it from an FTP (file transfer protocol) server, Fermigier said.

The other tool planned is an automated quality testing suite. "Testing a Linux OS, or indeed any large application built on free/open Source software, is a time-consuming and essential operation. Part of (our) plan is to develop tools to make testing more efficient and more comprehensive," the group said in its statement.

The project is scheduled to last two and a half years with deliverables due every six months. The first task is to analyze the problems and potentially develop specifications and prototypes, Fermigier said.

The project is called EDOS, or Environment for the Development and Distribution of Free Software. The other participants are the University of Geneva, CSP Torino in Italy and software vendors Nexedi of France and SOT of Finland. Mandrakesoft is taking part through its French subsidiary, Edge-IT, and will lead the project, the group said.

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