A team of Linux vendors Thursday unveiled UnitedLinux, a unified version of the open-source operating system that is expected to boost its viability in the corporate market.
As previously reported by IDG News Service, Linux operating system makers Caldera International Inc., Conectiva Inc., SuSE Linux AG and Turbolinux Inc. have combined efforts to create a single version of Linux on which each company will standardize its products.
The creation of a single Linux platform will make it easier for businesses, as well as independent hardware and software vendors, to offer services and build products in a standard way, said the companies behind UnitedLinux. Often, these vendors and enterprise users would have to retool applications to meet the requirements of different versions of Linux distribution from different vendors.
Under the partnership, the four companies have collaborated on the development of the UnitedLinux code base. The four partners each will adhere to that code as well as bundle distinct products and services with their respective offerings under their own brands. The first versions of UnitedLinux are expected to be available for purchase in the fourth quarter, the group said.
"The development of UnitedLinux is already well under way," said Ransom Love, chief executive officer of Caldera, during a conference call Thursday. Caldera has already merged its engineering team with SuSE's, Love said.
Analysts predicted earlier this week that the partnership was an effort to compete against Linux market leader Red Hat Inc., the missing player in the group. The combined market share of the four companies involved in UnitedLinux, as well as their worldwide reach, could pit the distribution of a standard Linux operating system against Red Hat, said Al Gillen, research director of systems software for research company IDC, in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Preliminary research from IDC for 2001 shows that the combined server operating system market share of the four vendors is about 25 percent, roughly half that of Red Hat's server operating system market share.
Caldera, in Lindon, Utah, and Turbolinux, in Brisbane, California, serve the U.S. market as well as Asia Pacific. SuSE, based in Nuremberg, Germany, is positioned to serve Europe, as well as the U.S. And, Conectiva, based in Curitiba, Brazil, ships its operating system product in Portuguese, Spanish and English, serving the Latin American market.
UnitedLinux, however, is not a closed effort. The group said Thursday that it is open to new members and has approached others in the industry to take part, including Red Hat and Sun Microsystems Inc., which recently announced that it was planning a Linux release for its line of Cobalt servers.
Executives from Red Hat said Thursday that their overall perception of the announcement is that it is a good move for the Linux community. However, the Raleigh, North Carolina, company didn't join as it was only approached by the companies one day before UnitedLinux was announced, said Mark de Visser, Red Hat's vice president of marketing.
"You can't take that very seriously," he said, noting that the UnitedLinux effort was nearly four months in the making before Red Hat was introduced to it.
Additionally, Red Hat already has support from a broad range of software vendors that make products for its operating system, while UnitedLinux is still in the development phase. "We have that broad support today; what they're saying is they hope to have that support by the end of the year," de Visser said.
Because UnitedLinux is an open source project, any changes that the companies make to the underlying technology must be made available to anyone who wants to see it, noted IDC senior analyst Dan Kusnetzky. Therefore, Red Hat could end up making use of any of the features of UnitedLinux in its own products without ever officially joining the group, he said.
"You have to wonder, what does Red Hat get by becoming a member of this body that they wouldn't already get by standing on the sidelines?" Kusnetzky said.
The standard version of Linux could also propel the open-source operating system on to more corporate desktops and servers, competing against the entrenched leaders such as Unix and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system, executives said during the conference call.
Currently, various Linux vendors build their operating system distributions using slightly different versions of the technology, forcing Linux application developers to create a different version for each distribution. With vendors standardizing on a single code base, application developers would benefit. Users also should be able to get services and technical support from a variety of sources.
"It will make Linux corporate computing a worldwide reality," said Gerhard Burtscher, chief executive officer of SuSE, during the conference call.
A number of hardware and software vendors pledged support for UnitedLinux Thursday. IBM Corp. will support the operating system in many of its key Linux hardware and software products, the company said in a statement. Other vendors backing the announcement include SAP AG, Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV, Hewlett-Packard Co., Computer Associates International Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Intel Corp.
The operating system will be supported by IBM's eServer product line, as well as AMD's 32-bit and 64-bit platforms and Intel's x86 32-bit and Itanium processor family platforms. Test versions of the software are expected to circulate in the second and third quarters.
UnitedLinux will support the industry standards LSB (Linux Standard Base), Li18nux and GB18030. It will be available in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.
SuSE is expected to take the lead role in maintaining the unified version of Linux and integrating new features into future versions, SuSE officials said during the conference call.