The Linux Standard Base project will provide a vendor-neutral
standard, backed by source code, upon which to build Linux
distributions, much as the Linux kernel project provides a single
kernel that is shared by all distributions....
The application of the standard will be that any program that runs
successfully on the reference platform can be expected to run on all
With these words, the Linux Standard Base project was launched in May of 1998.
This project set out to create a reference platform which would encourage
the porting of commercial application programs to the Linux system. By
eliminating the need to create a separate version of a program for every
supported distribution, the LSB, it was thought, would bring about a wealth
of Linux-based applications without impeding the free development of a
variety of Linux distributions.
Over the subsequent years, the LSB has limped along under a succession of
leaders. Various LSB standards addressing various parts of the system have
been created. Most of the major distributions have made the effort to
implement LSB compliance, so there is a vast number of deployed,
LSB-certified Linux systems out there. Only one little, nagging problem
has remained, however: no application vendors have stepped forward to
certify their products for Linux.
That situation changed quietly a couple of weeks ago, however, when the
Free Standards Group (the parent organization which is developing the LSB) announced the
first two certified LSB applications. These applications - RealPlayer and
MySQL - are no strangers to the Linux platform, so their certification is
unlikely to change life for many Linux users. RealPlayer already works on
the bulk of Linux distributions, and MySQL, being free software, is shipped
with most of them. But the fact that these vendors made the effort to
certify their products shows that the LSB effort - recently returned to
life under the leadership of Ian Murdock - might just go somewhere this
The real test, however, will be whether any new applications, previously
unsupported under Linux, hit the market with LSB certification. Thus far,
the LSB has failed to encourage any vendors - any at all - to support Linux
by porting to the LSB platform. The recent announcement has not changed
that fact - RealPlayer and MySQL were already available to Linux users in
an uncertified form.
Clearly, in 1998, the LSB was ahead of its time. The proprietary
application vendors, for the most part, were not even close to being ready
to support their products on Linux. There is not much that the LSB effort
could have done to change that fact. As Linux grows, however, vendors will
begin to believe that there might be a worthwhile market to be found there;
the LSB intends to be there when they come around. To that end, the Free
Standards Group has
set up a new developers network
with information for vendors writing applications for the LSB.
Many LWN readers have little interest in the creation of a vibrant market
for proprietary Linux applications. The available free software meets
their needs, and, where it doesn't, projects are underway to improve the
situation. For many, the installation of proprietary applications would
only compromise the years-long effort to create a free system. These
people care little about the progress of the LSB.
The fact remains, however, that there is a large variety of proprietary
software for which no free equivalent exists, not even in an early stage of
development. There is also a large body of potential users who will not
consider moving over to Linux until the applications they need are
available. If the LSB succeeds in encouraging ports of some of those
applications, it could encourage some of those users to make the jump to
free software. And that, in the end, should be a good thing.
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