Monday, May 15, 2006

Linux goes after the desktop

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Barbara Gengler
MAY 16, 2006
A WIDELY backed effort is under way to create a standard Linux desktop to help break Microsoft's stranglehold.

The Free Standards Group, which is backed by at least 14 software makers, aims to make it easier for developers to write applications that will work on different versions of Linux.

AMD, Asianux, CA, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Mandriva, Novell, RealNetworks, Red Flag, Red Hat, Turbolinux, Xandros and others have thrown their weight behind the Linux Standard Base.

The group has released LSB 3.1, the first version to include support for portable Linux desktop applications.

LSB 3.1 incorporates the recently approved ISO standard LSB Core (ISO/IEC 23360).

It is an effort to create a single starting point for Linux distributions based on standard elements.

As well as including the desktop and the ISO standard, LSB 3.1 includes aligning LSB's roadmap with those of major Linux versions, such as Asianux, Debian, Novell and Red Hat.

This will make it easier for software developers to correlate different versions of LSB.

Free Standards Group executive director Jim Zemlin says Linux developers and users know well-supported standards are the best way to reach desktop users.

Supporters of the standard cover the vast majority of the Linux market, he says.

"That coverage, combined with desktop standardisation delivers a compelling environment for software vendors wishing to target the Linux desktop."

Zemlin says the announcement eliminates one of the major barriers to adoption of the Linux desktop, making it easier for application developers to target the complete Linux platform. Novell open platforms chief technology officer Markus Rex says the specification's launch is an important step.

Standards such as LSB are essential if vendors are to target the Linux desktop, he says.

"At Novell, we think the desktop market is extremely strategic, and we will continue to invest in desktop innovation and desktop standards," Rex says. A number of Linux providers, including Novell, are expected to certify their products as complying with the new LSB standard.

The first desktop distribution certified will be from Xandros, followed by certified distributions from Novell in July and Red Hat, the Debian Project and others.

Linux has a foothold as an operating system for servers, but it has little of the desktop market.

Its desktop efforts have been blocked because Linux supports two desktop systems, Gnome and KDE, making it difficult for developers to create software that will run on all versions.

The group expects its combined LSB standard to help developers write applications that will work on Linux versions from different distributors.

The standard provides a degree of assured interoperability that will allow users to move their data and applications to another platform if they want to.

Unix is also promoting standardisation. Zemlin says the Unix effort pre-dates open source technical and legal models designed to improve protection against proprietary, closed systems and encourage engineering.

The LSB builds on earlier efforts to prevent Unix fragmentation, such as Posix and the Single Unix Specification.

Zemlin says the group has learned from the Unix experience and the LSB avoids the limitations of Posix and SUS.

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