UnitedLinux born without a Red Hat

A single Linux operating environment unifying the technology of Linux distributors Caldera International Inc., SuSE Linux AG, TurboLinux Inc., and Connectiva will arrive later this year, according to representatives for each company.

Expected in the fourth quarter of 2002, "UnitedLinux," as it's called, will provide a single, common code base for Linux vendors to add their individual flavorings, making it easier for users to run applications across different Linux environments, according to Tim Beyers, a UnitedLinux representative.

But the combined market reach of the four initial Linux distributors backing UnitedLinux will still be less than half that of the world's leading Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., said Dan Kusnetzky, a senior analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

Such a size comparison is critical when taking into account that Red Hat, while invited to join, has chosen to watch the evolution of UnitedLinux from a distance for now.

In a statement issued by the Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux distributor, Red Hat's vice president of marketing Mark de Visser suggested that Red Hat already had the application tools that the UnitedLinux effort seeks.

"Too many distributions hamper the migration of applications to Linux, so if this effort by Caldera and others consolidates distributions, it is a good development," said de Visser. "But in Linux, application support is everything. Red Hat Linux Advanced Server has it today. Time will tell if the Caldera group's distribution will achieve the same level of support."

But Beyers said customers around the globe have been waiting for the unified Linux code base promised by UnitedLinux.

"Worldwide, customers have been demanding a totally unified Linux code base, this now provides it," said Beyers, who added that a single Linux code base "means there will be only one Linux code base to certify for partners for their software and servers, and customers will have to support and maintain only one code base, simplifying the lives of IT managers who want to bring Linux into their enterprise."

The common UnitedLinux code base will arrive for customers on one CD, with the "value-add" of the individual distributor on a second CD. Each distributor will essentially share revenues generated by UnitedLinux, with the primary integrator receiving added compensation, according to UnitedLinux representatives. For example, if customers are primarily looking to use technology from SuSE Linux, SuSE will garnish additional dollars over the other UnitedLinux partners. An exact breakdown of the payment percentages was not given.

Industry support for UnitedLinux will be offered by a range of major industry players including Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Computer Associates.

Representatives for the four founding Linux distributors explained the absence of technology vendors such as Sun Microsystems, and particularly the absence of Linux king-pin Red Hat, as simply a matter of timing. Apparently, notification of the formation of UnitedLinux was last minute for potential members such as Sun, Red Hat, or Mandrake Linux, who are each welcome to join and have each expressed interest in UnitedLinux, according to UnitedLinux representatives.

"We have approached Sun," said Ransom Love, the president and CEO of Caldera. "They haven't had time to completely analyze what [UnitedLinux] means and how they would participate. It's a timing aspect more than anything else."

But Kusnetzky said Red Hat has little reason to join the ranks of UnitedLinux, as the rules of open source dictate that Red Hat reaps the benefit of any advances to Linux made by UnitedLinux.

"Anything UnitedLinux does with open source software is itself open source software. Red Hat works close to the Linux community and monitors the developments and where the developments fit Red Hat's market they incorporate them, add to them, and package them and sell them. So whatever this group does, Red Hat gets the benefit of anyway. Why should Red Hat invest to get benefit they would get anyway? It doesn't make sense." said Kusnetzky.

Furthermore, the impact of UnitedLinux will likely reach only as far as the combined market share of the founding Linux distributors, which is less than 25 percent of the total Linux market, said Kusnetzky. Here again, the absence of Red Hat is felt. "Any alliance that does not include Red Hat obviously excludes the majority of the market," he said.

But at least the diversity of the individual Linux offerings from the initial four distributors, along with the different geographical regions they serve, should prevent any overlap of services, said Kusnetzky. SuSE's success with high-end commercial activities in Europe and Germany, Caldera's Open Unix "replicated site business" in the Americas, Turbolinux's success in Asia with its parallel computing and cluster management software, and Connectiva's North American success likely means that the individual distributors "probably are looking at ways of staying in the markets they are in because they really are not competing with one another except on the remote edges. They are very complementary," said Kusnetzky.

"These are four companies who would like to make the most of their engineering resources, and if they share the cost of development of a would class Linux offering, that will free up some of their resources to do other things that are more closely attuned to their markets," summed up Kusnetzky.

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