Mike Angelo -- 14 August 2002 (C)
Currently, Microsoft's Windows operating systems own roughly about 90% of the computer market. Linux has roughly about 10% of the market. Someplace from the 90% Window's market share and 10% Linux share you can carve out about 5% to 10% for Apple's MAC OS and a few per-cent for all the rest of the computer operating systems altogether. That's close enough for our discussion here. The bean counters are more than welcome to discuss the nitty-gritty details of the operating-systems market-pie -- elsewhere. The point is that right now, like it or not, Microsoft's Windows owns the operating systems market.
If Linux is going to be an effective alternative to the Microsoft Windows operating system(s) it can not merely be as good as MS Windows, it must be better than MS Windows. Linux must be easier to install than MS Windows. It must be easier to use than MS Windows. It must be easier to maintain than MS Windows. It must be more secure and more stable than MS Windows. And Linux must have more and better applications than MS Windows. Moreover, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a Linux-based system or enterprise deployment must be less than the TCO for an MS Windows-based system or enterprise deployment.
Please feel free to equate effective alternative and effective competitor, if you wish.
Linux Standard Base -- a Worthy Discussion Topic
For several weeks now, we have been discussing the Linux Standard Base, and UnitedLinux too, with major players in the Linux community -- what is LSB, why is it important, how does LSB help to make Linux more competitive with other operating systems (to-wit, MS Windows)?
We have published some discussions, those of Gaël Duval and Holger Dryoff in recent articles about Mandrake Linux and SuSE Linux. Today we let you in on the pleasant, interesting, and informative e-mail and telephone discussions about LSB we recently had with Scott McNeil, Executive Director of the Free Standards Group (FSG), and LSB spokesperson Leslie Proctor.
Before getting into the discussions, however, here is the LSB Mission Statement for those of you who might not be familiar with the LSB project: The goal of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) is to develop and promote a set of standards that will increase compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant Linux system. In addition, the LSB will help coordinate efforts to recruit software vendors to port and write products for Linux. (Linuxbase.org)
Complying with the LSB Standards
As with any standards effort, in order for LSB to be successful and to have a meaningful impact, people and organizations must adopt the standard and adhere to it. At press time only three Linux distributions are listed by The Open Group, the official independent LSB certification organization, on its Web site as LSB certified.
No applications are listed by The Open Group as LSB certified at press time. However, at a LinuxWorld Expo press conference later today the Free Standards Group (FSG) is expected to announce at least a total of four LSB certified Linux distributions -- perhaps more.
Cheers to Mandrake, SuSE, and Red Hat -- the First to Achieve LSB Certification
It appears the first Linux distribution to become LSB certified was Mandrake Linux ProSuite 8.2 + first update CD, on 2 August 2002. Next was SuSE Linux 8.0 Professional + aaa_base and Kernel Update on 9 August 2002, and last of the first three, Red Hat Linux 7.3 with glibc 2.2.5-39+kernel 2.4.18-10 on 10 August 2002.
About LSB Certification and LSB Compliance
If you read between the lines of our interview with SuSE's Holger Dryoff, you already knew that SuSE Linux was LSB compliant on 6 August 2002. That brings up an interesting point. There are two terms being tossed around about adherence to the LSB standard. We asked Scott McNeil about that:
MozillaQuest Magazine: There are two labels being applied to compliance with the LSB, one being just that and the other being LSB "certified". Could you please explain the difference between LSB compliant and LSB certified?
Scott McNeil: Compliance is self-tested - Certification is the ultimate assurance, since it is done by a neutral, third party - in this case, the Open Group.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Is one preferable to the other?
Scott McNeil: Certification is the highest assurance - since it's done by a knowledgeable, neutral third party.
The cost for LSB certification testing is $3,000 for a Linux distribution. Certification testing for applications is only $1,200. The Open Group conducts the certification testing. Scott McNeil told MozillaQuest Magazine that the certification testing charges are for actual costs involved in conducting the tests. The LSB project makes no profit from the certification testing.
Scott McNeil mentioned that some enterprises are moving towards requiring LSB certification before they will purchase or deploy Linux stuff. For example, Scott noted that a bank, Credit Swiss First Boston (CSFB), has decided to implement such a policy effective January 2003. As you read on, you will come to understand why enterprises already are adopting LSB certification requirements for Linux distributions, software, and systems.
The LSB certification testing tools may be downloaded freely. So anyone developing or producing Linux distributions, software, systems, devices, or whatever can download the LSB certification testing tools and run his or her own LSB compliance tests. Or, people interested in testing Linux stuff they use themselves, for compliance with LSB standards, can run their own LSB compliance tests too.
While official LSB certification might be the brass ring, or perhaps the gold ring in this case, LSB compliance is very important too. So the Linux Standard Base project will be setting up an LSB compliance registry also.
LSB Wants You!
Linux distribution and software developers and others producing Linux products will be able to conduct their own LSB compliance tests as mentioned above. Then they will be able to submit the log files from their LSB compliance tests to the LSB folks. The LSB people then will place a listing of the product(s) in an LSB compliant registry on the LSB Web site -- along with the log files of their compliance self-tests.
In effect, that's an informal and un-official LSB self-tested certification program. There is no charge to Linux distribution providers, software developers, and others producing Linux products to self-test their products for LSB compliance -- and to have the LSB compliance of their products listed in the LSB product compliance registry.
As you will see as you read on, it is very important for everyone producing Linux distributions, software, and other Linux products to at least make sure their product(s) is LSB complaint and to get recognition of that compliance in the LSB compliance registry. Moreover, the FSG is doing everything it can to help and encourage Linux distribution, software developers, and others producing Linux products to get their products LSB compliant. It was clear and obvious in our discussion with Scott McNeil that he and the LSB project want to be extensively inclusive. To borrow a phrase from an old and honored Uncle Sam poster, LSB Wants You!
LSB Compliance and Certification Are Important
The importance of Linux distribution compliance with the LSB was well-made by Ximian CEO, David Patrick, at an LSB press conference during the January 2002 LinuxWorld Expo in New York City. David Patrick's presentation there was most informative and compelling. He explained, from a Linux software developer's perspective, the problems Linux software developers currently face with having to make different versions of their products for, in some instances, just about every Linux distribution upon which they want their software to run. As David Patrick pointed out, the LSB should eliminate these sorts of problems and obstacles to Linux software development and deployment. That's very important!
Moving right along here with the importance of the Linux Standard Base, we asked --
MozillaQuest Magazine: Why is LSB important?
Scott McNeil: LSB standardizes the core functionality of Linux, allowing Linux-based programs to work across distributions - this is important to the continued growth of Linux, since developers and ISVs can concentrate on adding functionality to Linux, rather than needing to concentrate on compatibility issues.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Why is LSB important to the Linux community?
Scott McNeil: The standards developed under the Free Standards Group umbrella are all community based, open source projects. The community has contributed materially to the standards.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Does the importance of LSB extend beyond the Linux community.
Scott McNeil: Standards based Linux is a very attractive option to end users on all levels - it translates into fewer compatibility issues -- and to ISVs, who can port to standards-based Linux -- and it will work across distributions. This translates into more capabilities for Linux and more users -- as well as greater ROI [return on investment] for development and porting and less time (money) spent on installing and running Linux.
MozillaQuest Magazine: In what way(s) is LSB important to Linux distribution development and how does LSB impact on the Linux distributions and Linux distribution development?
Scott McNeil: Linux distributions benefit by greater market share and a growing market -- a standardized Linux attracts ISVs and end users and becomes a selling point for Linux distributions.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Some people have suggested that LSB might be too restrictive on Linux distributions and stifle the independence of the various Linux distributors and the freedom of choice that independence provides for end-users. What are your thoughts about that?
Scott McNeil: Think of this like a car -- a car has 4 wheels, a steering wheel, brakes and a windshield. That's what the LSB standardizes. But there's a big difference between a Volkswagen and a Ferrari - you get the point.
MozillaQuest Magazine: In what way(s) is LSB important to Linux desktop development?
Scott McNeil: Desktop developers can concentrate on adding functionality to the desktop - rather than dealing with porting issues -- which is a very good thing.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Are the Linux desktop developers such as KDE or GNOME involved in the LSB project?
Scott McNeil: There is some involvement and we expect to see more in the future.
MozillaQuest Magazine: In what way(s) is LSB important to Linux application development and how does LSB impact on Linux applications and Linux application development?
Scott McNeil: . . . the answer is about the same -- the key benefit is that they can spend their time doing the fun work of adding functionality to their application. For a commercial application, this translates into a huge savings in development costs.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Most computers these days come with an operating system already installed. How can LSB help to get more computer manufacturers and OEMs to install Linux on computers they sell and to get them to install Linux on more computers?
Scott McNeil: LSB certification is a selling point for OEMs selling Linux-based equipment.
MozillaQuest Magazine: How many Linux distributions comply with LSB? Do you have a list of Linux distributions that comply with LSB and with which LSB versions they comply?
Scott McNeil: Almost all of the major Linux distributions have made the commitment to be either LSB certified or compliant by the end of this year. [Emphasis Added]
MozillaQuest Magazine: How many Linux distributions are LSB certified?
Scott McNeil: Four have become certified.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Is it appropriate to discuss Linux applications in terms of compliance with LSB and/or being LSB certified?
Scott McNeil: Yes, particularly since a compliant or certified application will work with a compliant or certified distribution. It does make a difference in deployment.
However, currently there are no Linux applications that are LSB certified.
Linux Standard Base and UnitedLinux
MozillaQuest Magazine: Would it be fair to characterize Linux Standard Base as more applicable or relevant to, or perhaps more important for, desktop Linux and UnitedLinux as more applicable or relevant to, or perhaps more important for, Linux servers -- particularly the more advanced and enterprise level Linux server deployments?
Scott McNeil: No - standards apply equally to all levels of Linux, from embedded all the way up to enterprise level Linux.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Are LSB and UnitedLinux politically/socially/community-wise/economically compatible?
Scott McNeil: The Free Standards Group is supported by a number of companies, including a number of Linux distributions -- it is a vendor-neutral organization, so we aren't in a position to talk about one Linux distribution over another.
Leslie Proctor: UnitedLinux has committed, like a number of other leading Linux distributions, to be LSB compliant and perhaps certified. The Free Standards Group and the projects under its umbrella are vendor-neutral. Engineers from most of the various Linux distributions, including those who are now working on UnitedLinux, have contributed to the LSB.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Are LSB and UnitedLinux technically compatible?
Scott McNeil: They've committed to being LSB compliant, so yes. When UnitedLinux becomes LSB compliant, any LSB compliant software will be able to run on it.
MozillaQuest Magazine: How will the LSB project fit in with UnitedLinux? Will the LSB project be part of UnitedLinux or affiliated with it in any way?
Scott McNeil: The Free Standards Group will work with UnitedLinux in the same way it has worked with the companies that make it up, as well as other Linux distributions, all of whom have contributed engineering resources to the LSB, Li18nux and other Free Standards Group projects.
MozillaQuest Magazine: How will the LSB fit in with UnitedLinux? Will the LSB be part of UnitedLinux?
Scott McNeil: UnitedLinux will be LSB compliant or certified.
MozillaQuest Magazine: Will the LSB comply with the UnitedLinux specs?
Scott McNeil: It's the other way around - UnitedLinux will comply with the [LSB] standards.
MozillaQuest Magazine: What impact will LSB have on end-users and what are the benefits of LSB for end-users?
Scott McNeil: . . . standards make it possible for any compliant application to run on any compliant Linux distribution. That eases compatibility issues, increases the market share and choice of software for end users.
What Scott just said: standards make it possible for any compliant application to run on any compliant Linux distribution. That eases compatibility issues, increases the market share and choice of software for end users. [Emphasis added.]
Stay tuned -- the LSB story is far from over -- it's just beginning.