The Free Standards Group and its Linux Standard Base work group Tuesday announced the formation of the Linux Standard Base Desktop Project, with the support of Adobe Systems Inc., Intel Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Linspire Inc., Mandriva SA, Novell Inc., RealNetworks Inc., Red Hat Inc., Trolltech, Xandros Inc. and others.
The LSB (Linux Standard Base) Desktop Project's goal is to standardize common libraries and application behavior so as to make it easier for ISVs to write Linux desktop programs.
The long-term goal is to help the Linux desktop achieve wide-spread adoption.
In the past, Linux ISVs, while not anywhere near as constrained as they have been in writing applications for Unix, have still faced complex and costly development and support issues. This, in turn, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group, has lead to many ISVs choosing not to develop for Linux.
In addition to long-time Linux supporter ISVs such as Trolltech and hardware vendors like HP and IBM, the LSB Desktop Project is also being supported by companies that have not been well known for Linux support, such as Adobe, Intel and RealNetworks.
All these businesses are donating time and resources towards the goal of standardizing common libraries and application behavior so as to make it easier for developers to target the Linux desktop.
This is not just lip-service support, according to Zemlin.
"The LSB Desktop is well-funded. We're not only getting time from individual members of the open-source community, vendors are providing the financial resources needed to make and prove out the standards," Zemlin said. The work group is also inviting all interested parties to participate in the project.
The companies will be working to create a common application runtime and to standardize install time requirements for key Linux distributions. This will mean that core pieces of the Linux desktop, including libraries and non-binary application behaviors, will be standardized for both Linux distributors and ISVs.
Zemlin said the group will be "dealing with all issues concerning interoperability."
According to Stacey Quandt, an Aberdeen Group Inc. research director, "the idea is to make the LSB more appealing to ISVs that are writing GUI applications. The LSB subcommittee will be looking into adding the necessary libraries for desktop applications, i.e., the next step beyond the base X libraries. This will likely mean both GNOME and KDE/QT."
Click here to read about a potential Linux desktop from Dell.
"Right now the only thing in the LSB is the base X libraries," Quandt said. "This means applications using GNOME or KDE libraries can only be LSB-compliant by static linking, which makes them huge, and in some cases GNOME/KDE libraries don't support static linking because they want to dynamically load them for various reasons."
The new LSB desktop group will be dealing with more than just KDE and GNOME issues though. It will be dealing with "all issues dealing with interoperability," Zemlin said. With "everyone at the table, and motivated to make the Linux desktop a success, everyone will be seeking a consensus. This may not [mean] making developers choose between KDE and GNOME, but instead finding a way to make it easier for ISVs to create applications that can easily work with both."
In short, he said, "the timing is right for the Linux desktop."
As an example, Zemlin pointed to Adobe. "Adobe is large, forward-looking company, which is now putting a strategic bet on Linux. They wouldn't be doing this if they weren't serious about Linux."
Adobe agreed. "This effort to standardize the components that make up the Linux desktop will go a long way in making support for multiple Linux distributions possible for ISVs like Adobe," said Patrice Lagrange, Adobe's director of Linux strategy and market development.
Next Page: Building on a standards base.
Other ISVs expressed support for the plan as well.
"Standardizing key libraries across multiple distributions will help us target Linux cost-effectively while supporting distributions all over the world. We look forward to working closely with the LSB Desktop Project and promoting their standards and guidelines in our products," said Kevin Foreman, general manager of Helix—an open-source media player—for RealNetworks.
On the hardware side, Intel, long one-half of the de facto Windows-Intel desktop alliance, is now strongly supporting Linux.
"With the formation of this project, Intel sees a promising future for Linux on the desktop," Danese Cooper, Intel's senior director of open-source strategy, said in a statement. Intel recently consolidated its Linux efforts.
"A standardized Linux will help end users, ISVs, our resellers and the community to achieve the goal of a successful and thriving Linux on the desktop," Cooper said.
Read more here about Intel's consolidated Linux strategy.
"Having had a monopoly over the desktop, Microsoft [Corp.] has had the advantage of forcing their standards on users," said Kevin Carmony, president and CEO of Linspire.
"Linspire supports the LSB as a way to help Linux users enjoy the same benefits of standardization that Microsoft Windows users have, but with open standards rather than closed, proprietary ones."
The group will not be starting from a blank slate. The plan is for the desktop specification to be built on top of existing common practices and specifications, including the ones available from freedesktop.org. This is a group that has been working toward interoperability of X Window System-based GUIs since 2000.
The first specification from the LSB desktop project is slated for publication in early 2006, with certifications commencing soon after. Compliant applications that undergo certification testing will receive a "Linux Standard Base Desktop" certification mark.
Quandt said the effort may be successful, adding, "While there are other initiatives that target increasing the adoption of the Linux desktop, the LSB subcommittee can bring to the table an industry effort with real meat that can further the technical capabilities of the Linux desktop. The more vendors that participate in this initiative the more successful this initiative will be."
With broad industry support, Zemlin said, the Linux desktop could challenge the Windows desktop.
"As the standards are provided and then adopted, the Linux desktop will snowball. Microsoft can compete with a Sun, a Red Hat or a Novell, but they won't be able to compete with an ecosystem of Linux desktops," Zemlin said.