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To read comments to this article, go here
The Linux Foundation is Born - Updated
Monday, January 22 2007 @ 05:35 AM EST

OSDL and the Free Standards Group have merged to form The Linux Foundation. If you go to osdl.org now, you arrive at The Linux Foundation. Here's the operative paragraph from the press release:
For Linux to remain open and attain the greatest ubiquity possible, important services must be provided, including legal protection, standardization, promotion and collaboration. Successful proprietary software companies, for instance, do several important things well: backwards compatibility, promotion, interoperability, developer support, and more. In the voluntary and distributed world of Linux development, the industry continues to successfully use the consortia model to rapidly improve these value attributes for Linux. The Linux Foundation has been founded to help close the gap between open source and proprietary platforms, while sustaining the openness, freedom of choice and technical superiority inherent in open source software.

Is it a good thing? I don't know yet. After the Novell-Microsoft deal, I'll wait and watch. Novell is a member of The Linux Foundation. Pretty is as pretty does, as my granny used to say. I see Red Hat is also a member now. So I am cautiously optimistic that someone will continue to see that the GPL is vital to the community and the success of Linux, counterintuitive as it might seem to business types.

Without a doubt OSDL provided important legal protection, through its various creative projects like the Open Source as Prior Art and Patent Commons projects, and most particularly its support for Software Freedom Law Center, which provides legal protection to developers, and the Linux Foundation will continue providing that kind of leadership. It will also provide support to Linus, so he doesn't have to work for any one vendor. That independence is very important. Note that The Linux Foundation will now be overseeing the Linux trademark. Personally, I hope they get more aggressive and take a look at anti-Linux media entities that use the mark, in my view, inappropriately.

Jim Zemlin is the new Executive Director of the Linux Foundation. Zemlin is the former executive director of the Free Standards Group.

He's quoted in the New York Times:

“It’s really a two-horse race now, with computing dominated by two operating-system platforms, Linux and Windows,” said James Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. “There are things that Microsoft does well in terms of promoting Windows, providing legal protection and standardizing Windows.”

He added that “the things that Microsoft does well are things we need to do well — to promote, protect and standardize Linux.”

There is another quotation from Daniel Frye of IBM:

The new Linux organization is “a clear sign that we are going to continue to work together,” said Daniel D. Frye, vice president for open systems development at I.B.M.

There is vigorous competition among companies in the market for hardware, software and services that work with Linux, Mr. Frye said. But collaboration is also essential to move Linux technology forward, he said, and avoid the kind of splintering of the marketplace that occurred in the 1980s, when different companies supported different versions of the Unix operating system.

Some of us see the Novell-MS deal as a splintering of the marketplace, very much like what happened to Unix, particularly in light of the Novell executive Jeff Jaffe's statements about Novell being uniquely positioned to interoperate with Microsoft:

Only Novell has Microsoft’s endorsement as its partner to drive Linux-Windows interoperability. So – of the Linux vendors - only we can speak authoritatively about Windows.

Sounds like Unix splintering to me. I trust or at least hope that the Linux Foundation will address that. The statement from Frye indicates to me that there is some basis for hope.

As for standardization, here's a snip from China Martens' article in Techworld:

The combination of the two Linux consortiums was "inevitable", said Forrester analyst Michael Goulde. "The challenge Linux faces is the same one Unix faced and failed - how to become a single standard." If Linux is really to a be a long-term product for customers, the open-source operating system needs to allow application developers to "develop once for Linux so their software can run on any distribution," he added. At present, Linux developers often are forced to tweak their applications so they can run on six to seven different distributions.

Interoperability is a key area to work on as is backward compatibility between newer and older Linux releases, Zemlin said. At the same time, the foundation will look to expand the legal protection it offers developers and continue to provide a "safe haven" for Linux kernel developers.

Update: You might like to know how one member of the FOSS community responded to that in a comment on this article, which I incorporate here:

This is complete nonsense.

I am a developer for the Gnu/Linux environment. I program to the glibc APIs, which are in all distros by default, and use toolkits like gtkmm, which are optional for some distros but which can be chosen by the user for any distro. Consequently, any distro can run my stuff. This is true for most application programmers in the Gnu/Linux environment. We do not have to 'tweak' anything.

I also programmed for Unix 15 years ago, when Unix was fragmenting, and the situation was completely different. Berkeley Unix was different from AT&T Unix, and the "OSF Consortium"s Unix was different from both. They really were different at the API level. For example, the standard Unix call "sprintf" would return a string address on one platform and a number on another. It really was a mess for developers. To compare the trivial differences among the Gnu/Linux distros with the real differences among the Unix variants is a gross misrepresentation of the situation.

This is not to downplay the efforts of the Linux Standard Base people, who are doing a useful job, for example in standardizing where things go in the filesystem tree. But what they are doing is making a good situation even better, not trying to repair something that is broken.

So to the commercial members of the FOSS community, Linux is all about Microsoft now. I know the community in general doesn't care about that, beating Microsoft, as a goal at all. Linus never did. So I view this as a reaction to Microsoft's aggressive patent threats, and in that context, it's inevitable and a required response. Unfortunately, there is no way to ignore Microsoft.

However, you will note that the board of directors has no traditional community members at all. It's all businesses represented. But it's important for somebody to point out one simple truth: Linux was not created and developed by businesses. It just wasn't. They didn't have the vision. They think in terms of ownership and control, not sharing and openness, and left to control what happens next, they will surely destroy everything. Novell taught the community that hard lesson. Red Hat is not on the board, I see. Here are the By-Laws. The current board are all platinum members, and here's the definition of that in the By-Laws:

Platinum Members. The Platinum Members shall be individuals and entities that engage in or support the production, manufacture, use, sale or standardization of Linux or other open source-based technologies. A Platinum Member shall pay the annual membership dues identified on Schedule A to these Bylaws (the “Membership Dues Schedule”). A Platinum Member shall cease to be a member in the event of its resignation or expulsion from this corporation.

That's how deals like Novell's can happen, only to create a tsunami of protest from the FOSS community afterward, an avoidable problem with a little foresight.

Here's how one might get expelled, by the way:

Expulsion, Termination or Suspension. Membership may be terminated by a majority of the Directors then in office after giving the member at least 15 days’ written notice by first class or certified mail of the termination and the reasons for the termination, and (except in the case of termination for non-payment of membership dues, fees or assessments in timely fashion) an opportunity for the member to be heard by the Board, orally or in writing, no less than five days before the effective date of the termination. The decision of the Board shall be final and shall not be reviewed by any court.

Obviously, someone has given some thought to bad actors, and that's a good thing. The By-Laws also speak about an expansion of the board of directors beyond the platinum members, to include Gold Directors and Silver Directors, and even At-Large Directors. So there is flexibility in the By-Laws, I see, to include a broad spectrum of interests. They even speak of "Observers":

Observers. Each Platinum, Gold and Silver Director and the TAB At-Large Director shall have the right to designate a single observer to attend meetings of the Board of Directors when such director is unable to be present, provided that such director provides prior notice to the Chairman of the Board and the Chairman of the Board approves the request, which request shall not be unreasonably denied. An observer permitted to attend shall have the right to participate in the general session but may not put forth or vote on any motion. Observers shall in no event have the right to attend or participate in any executive session attended only by directors.

In short, it's only the first day. There is reason for cautious optimism. But it's also clear that this is an entity that represents business interests in Linux. Businesses tend to think in terms of control, differentiation, money über alles. The GPL? Not so much. And FOSS is a two-way street, or it's a dead end. What really happened to Unix was the community was used to write it, and then proprietary interests took it private and closed so they could make a buck. Here's the LF FAQ, and the explanation for the need for the Linux Foundation:

Why was The Linux Foundation formed?

Linux has experienced tremendous growth since OSDL and the FSG were each formed more than six years ago. Today, Linux has captured significant marketshare across many different industries and has reached a level of maturity that requires a focused and comprehensive set of resources as it enters the next phase of explosive growth.

The Linux Foundation marshals the resources of the Linux ecosystem to provide much needed services that are not easily offered by a single community member, entity or company. It uses a shared resources strategy – much as open source developers do – to collaborate on platform development while enhancing the Linux market for everyone: end users, the community, developers and industry.

The community developers are a key part of that ecosystem, and they are not interested in a hostile takeover. Just saying. If you wish to join as a member or an affiliate, you can, whether you are a government, a nonprofit, a company or an individual. If the latter, it only costs $25. If you wish to be a platinum member, it's $500,000. Here's where you sign up, if you wish to.

Here's the press release:

****************************

New Linux Foundation Launches – Merger of Open Source Development Labs and Free Standards Group
Sunday, January 21st, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, January 22, 2007 — The two leading consortia dedicated to the advancement of Linux® – the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group (FSG) – today announced that they have signed an agreement to merge and form The Linux Foundation. The new organization accelerates the growth of Linux by providing a comprehensive set of services to compete effectively with closed platforms.

Founding platinum members of the Linux Foundation include Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Novell, and Oracle. Jim Zemlin, former executive director of the Free Standards Group, leads The Linux Foundation. Other members of the new organization include every major company in the Linux industry, including Red Hat, as well as numerous community groups, universities and industry end users.

“Computing is entering a world dominated by two platforms: Linux and Windows. While being managed under one roof has given Windows some consistency, Linux offers freedom of choice, customization and flexibility without forcing customers into vendor lock-in,” said Zemlin. “The Linux Foundation helps in the next stage of Linux growth by organizing the diverse companies and constituencies of the Linux ecosystem to promote, protect, and standardize Linux.”

The Linux Foundation, which continues to sponsor the work of Linux creator Linus Torvalds, employs a shared resources strategy – much like open source development itself – to collaborate on platform development while enhancing the Linux market for end users, the community, developers and industry.

Why The Linux Foundation Now

Since OSDL and the FSG were each formed more than six years ago, Linux has grown significantly in server, desktop, and embedded usage around the world. Moreover, the open source model has transformed development by providing faster demand-side learning, higher quality, better security, shorter development cycles, and lower prices than closed platform development models. OSDL and the FSG were important forces behind open source adoption and played key roles in preventing fragmentation of the Linux market.

For Linux to remain open and attain the greatest ubiquity possible, important services must be provided, including legal protection, standardization, promotion and collaboration. Successful proprietary software companies, for instance, do several important things well: backwards compatibility, promotion, interoperability, developer support, and more. In the voluntary and distributed world of Linux development, the industry continues to successfully use the consortia model to rapidly improve these value attributes for Linux. The Linux Foundation has been founded to help close the gap between open source and proprietary platforms, while sustaining the openness, freedom of choice and technical superiority inherent in open source software.

The Linux Foundation’s Activities

The Linux Foundation does not build Linux, nor does it compete with existing Linux companies. Rather it fosters the growth of Linux by focusing on the following areas:

* Protecting Linux by sponsoring key Linux developers and providing legal services

It’s vitally important that Linux creator Linus Torvalds and other key kernel developers remain independent. The Linux Foundation sponsors them so they can work full time on improving Linux. The Linux Foundation also manages the Linux trademark (www.linuxmark.org) and offers developers legal intellectual property protection through such initiatives as the Open Source as Prior Art project (www.osapa.org), the Patent Commons www.patent-commons.org), and sponsorship of the Linux Legal Defense Fund.

* Standardizing Linux and improving it as a platform for software development

A platform is only as strong as the applications that support it. The Linux Foundation offers application developers standardization services and support that make Linux an attractive target for their development efforts. These include the Linux Standard Base (LSB) and the Linux Developer Network. All major Linux distributions comply with the LSB.

* Providing a neutral forum for Collaboration and Promotion

The Linux Foundation serves as a neutral spokesperson to advance the interests of Linux and respond with authority to competitors’ attacks. It also fosters innovation by hosting collaboration events among the Linux technical community, application developers, industry and end users to solve pressing issues facing the Linux ecosystem in such areas as desktop interfaces, accessibility, printing, application packaging, and many others.

The merger is pending ratification by the two organizations’ respective memberships and is expected to be completed in early February.

Support for The Linux Foundation

Fujitsu

“As partner organizations, OSDL and FSG helped Linux achieve its current success,” said Masatoshi Yoshida, general manager, Linux Software Development Division, Fujitsu Limited. “Since Fujitsu is promoting Linux for enterprise computing systems and has been a member of both OSDL and FSG, we look forward to working together with the unified Linux Foundation along with the Linux Community in order to build and cultivate an even more stable ecosystem for the thriving operating system.”

Hitachi

“The new Linux Foundation will integrate and advance the activities that have been the most important to OSDL and FSG members. We expect The Linux Foundation will advance the Linux/OSS ecosystem and we look forward to working on key activities including standardization,” said Kazuhiro Fujisaki, general manager, Platform Software, Hitachi, Ltd., Software Division.

HP

“HP has been a long-time member of both OSDL and FSG, and is proud to continue supporting the advancement of Linux and open source as a founding Board member of the Linux Foundation,” said Christine Martino, vice president, Open Source and Linux Organization, HP. “Vendors, developers and customers alike will stand to benefit from the efforts of the Linux Foundation as it works to address the most pressing legal, technical and marketing issues within the community.”

IBM

“The open movement is entering a new era with Linux and Open Source technologies having become a pervasive presence in the IT market,” said Daniel Frye, vice president, Open Systems Development, IBM. “Today’s merger represents a milestone in the maturity of Linux and Open Source. Linux has evolved from an emerging technology to an unstoppable force for customer innovation in worldwide markets.”

Intel

“The formation of the Linux Foundation is a natural evolution of OSDL and the FSG and reflects the maturity of Linux,” said Doug Fisher, Intel vice president and general manager of the company’s System Software Division. “Bringing together the expertise and best practices from each organization will further raise the level on which Linux will serve customer needs moving forward.”

NEC

“NEC expects the Linux Foundation will lead important activities for ensuring Linux interoperability among distributions and for bridging vendors to the open source development community,” said Yoshikazu Maruyama, senior vice president, NEC Corporation. “NEC has been an active Linux community member and will continue by working closely with the Linux Foundation and our colleagues from other organizations.”

Novell

“Interoperability and standardization are critical to the success of Linux. The Linux Foundation’s efforts on standards and certification, its legal and community activities, and its advisory councils will provide important benefits to our customers and the Open Source community,” said Markus Rex, vice president, Services Strategy for Novell and a board member of both the FSG and ODSL. “The fact that Novell was a founding member of the FSG and the sole major commercial Linux distributor in OSDL, combined with our historical record in early adoption and certification of the LSB, demonstrate the commitment we place on standardization to prevent fragmentation. This makes it easier for our customers to adopt Linux with confidence.”

Oracle

“The Linux Foundation has successfully prioritized the most important work for collaboration among industry participants in this new stage of growth for Linux,” said Wim Coekaerts, vice president, Linux engineering, Oracle. “We are excited to work with the Foundation and other colleagues to be a part of this new day for Linux and open source software.”

Red Hat

“We expect the Linux Foundation will provide a business infrastructure that delivers high value to industry and community,” said Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering, Red Hat. “We look forward to being involved in the Linux Foundation.”

About the Linux Foundation

The Linux Foundation is a nonprofit consortium dedicated to fostering the growth of Linux. Founded in 2007 by the merger of the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, it sponsors the work of Linux creator Linus Torvalds and is supported by leading Linux and open source companies and developers from around the world. The Linux Foundation promotes, protects and standardizes Linux by providing unified resources and services needed for open source to successfully compete with closed platforms. For more information, please visit www.linux-foundation.org.

###

Trademarks: The Linux Foundation, OSDL, Free Standards Group, and Linux Standard Base are trademarks of The Linux Foundation. Linux is a trademark of Linus Torvalds. Third party marks and brands are the property of their respective holders.


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