The open source community is collaborating on a set of binary standards that will increase compatibility among Linux systems, through a project called Linux Standard Base (LSB).
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Through the initiative, end-users will be able to ensure that the core Linux kernel contains a standard set of software components to improve application compatibility and reduce the level of testing required to install LSB patches.
Linux patches need to be tested against specific versions of the kernel. Sam Greenblatt, senior vice president of technology at Computer Associates, which is the latest company to join in the effort, said that the kernel could change over time as improved security or a development environment is installed.
When this happens there is a danger that patches are not compatible with the revised system. "LSB will guarantee [compatibility] for whatever patches are installed," said Greenblatt.
The overall goal is to enable software applications to run on any conforming system. When the LSB environment is implemented on a wide range of platforms, all developers will be able to write applications without having to worry about any special cases for a particular platform.
The main benefit of Linux over rival operating systems, according to analyst group Ovum, is that the kernel is standard. All distributions of Linux, such as Red Hat and SuSE, based their systems on this kernel.
Ovum analyst Gary Barnett said differences occur when the Linux distributions use different components that sit on top of the kernel, such as alternative user interfaces like KDE and Gnome, which use different programming interfaces. "To get the widest choice of applications there needs to be a single development environment," he said.
One area of standardisation that has benefited end-users, Barnett said, has been the use of Firefox as the de facto web browser for Linux. "Previously users would run [multiple] browsers."
The Linux Standard Base is overseen by the Free Standards Group (FSG). CA, HP, IBM, Sun Microsystems, AMD and Intel, as well as all major Linux vendors like Red Hat and Novell, are now members. The specification supports Intel 32- and 64-bit processors, AMD64, PowerPC 32- and 64-bit processors and the S390.