UnitedLinux Teams Up

Unified Codebase

Four commercial Linux vendors said today they have joined together their development organizations to produce an industry-standard distribution. Backed by IBM Corp., United Linux plans to release its first distribution later this year and support each of the platforms in IBM’s eServer line.

Each of the member companies -- Caldera International Inc., Connectiva SA, SuSE Linux AG, and TurboLinux Inc. -- announced the joint venture in a conference call today. The joint venture, which includes the developer pools of the member companies, will create an enterprise-class Linux distribution, called UnitedLinux. The companies in turn will sell the distribution with value-added features including technical support and localization.

UnitedLinux is a commercial extension of another project within the Linux community, the Linux Standards Base (LSB). LSB created a set of specifications for Linux distributions, so developers and administrators know what to expect from an LSB-compliant distribution. UnitedLinux takes the concept of the LSB and creates a commercial product based on an LSB-compliant distribution.

The perceived strength of UnitedLinux is the creation of a single standard for application development. While each Linux distribution shares common characteristics such as the Linux kernel, shells and desktops, along with industry standard applications like the Apache Web server, developers often had to rewrite applications for different distributions since included different packages. Moreover, the user experience could be vastly different in some cases.

With the creation of a standard distribution, application developers can make broad assumptions about the Linux environment, thus reducing the amount of work needed to sell an application into an enterprise using Linux. The UnitedLinux distribution will have a single codebase for developers to work with.

Some observers may note the Linux community already has a standard code base to work with: the Red Hat distribution. Although Red Hat Inc., claims 52 percent of the Linux market, UnitedLinux could threaten Red Hat’s hegemony because the individual vendors have carved out niches in the Linux market. For example, TurboLinux is noted for its language localization for Asian and Pacific markets, while SuSE is one of the largest distributions in Europe.

On today’s conference call, Caldera CEO Ransome Love said Caldera and SuSE had already merged its development teams to bring the UnitedLinux distribution to market. The joint venture also featured spokespersons from vendors such as Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, which pledged support for the platform, and AMD, which is aggressively pursuing a place in the enterprise with its Athlon MP and Opteron server processors.

UnitedLinux will support each of IBM’s eServer platforms, from single processor xSeries machines to the zSeries mainframe. With this support, IBM now has a single Linux codebase for all of the machines it sells. This does not mean, however, that the individual vendor members will sell software for all machines. “They have the option to ship z[Series], i[Series], and p[Series],” says Scott Handy, director of Linux software solutions at IBM.

Presumably, Caldera, TurboLinux, and SuSE, which already support the IBM zSeries, will bring their UnitedLinux implementations to the mainframe. Anita Kratka, director of channel sales at TurboLinux, indicated the company would sell the UnitedLinux-based distribution across the IBM eServer line.

One benefit UnitedLinux offers IBM, according to Handy, is the ability to write a single version of its enterprise applications, such as WebSphere, for all of the vendors. “We can write mainframe applications to two distributions, rather than four,” Handy says. Moreover, IBM can take advantage of the unique characteristics of each distribution, such as localization, without rewriting code.

Handy says UnitedLinux will offer similar advantages to enterprises with homegrown applications running Linux. An enterprise can have the same application run on the TurboLinux implementation installed in Japan, the Caldera implementation in the United States, and the SuSE version in Germany. “It decreases the cost and increases the reach,” Handy says.

Both Handy and a Hewlett-Packard representative were quick to point out IBM and HP would continue to support Red Hat Linux on their server platforms. “That’s an absolute market reality,” Handy confirmed, saying that he expects customer demand for Red Hat to remain strong.

About the Author

Chris McConnell is Product and Technology Editor for Enterprise Systems.