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The Linux Foundation: The Right Idea at the Right Time

Linux is growing by leaps and bounds, and it only makes sense that the organizations that track and guide its growth are finally getting together. So, if all goes well, sometime this February the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group will be merging to form the Linux Foundation. It really is the right idea at the right time.

The OSDL, based in Beaverton, Ore., has long supported Linux and other open-source programs. Its membership includes almost every significant Linux organization and company. After its reorganization in December in advance of this merger, the nonprofit organization clarified its goals.

The OSDL began shifting its resources to focus on four main areas. First, it will continue to employ key developers, such as Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton, the organization said. It will also increase its funding of legal support for Linux and open source, and in particular, it will address licensing and patent issues. This expansion will complement current OSDL initiatives such as the Patent Commons, and the Linux Legal Defense Fund.

The group will also support ongoing regional activities such as the Japanese Linux Symposium, and will work to foster closer collaboration among community developers, OSDL members and users to produce more code to advance open-source projects.

A prime example of the OSDL’s actions to foster collaboration among developers, organizations and companies is the Portland Project and its efforts to bring rhyme and reason to the various Linux desktop projects. The Portland Project, which was sponsored by the OSDL’s Desktop Linux Working Group, has brought together KDE and GNOME developers, open-source programmers and software vendors to create the foundations for a standards-based Linux desktop.


The FSG’s membership list looks a great deal like OSDL’s. There’s a reason for that. Both nonprofits have almost identical goals. The main difference between them is more a matter of where they spend their energies rather than any philosophical differences.

A quick look at the FSG’s three major areas makes this clear. While the FSG doesn’t employ developers, its main focus is on the LSB (Linux Standard Base) and its test suite. The LSB is a set of standards meant to enable application portability across all LSB-compliant Linux distributions. The test suite ensures that all LSB Certified distributions and applications comply with the LSB standard.

This is supported in turn by the Linux world’s answer to the MSDN (Microsoft Software Developer Network): the LSB Developer Network. Like the MSDN, this site provides a central place for information, tools and support for developers building applications deployable on multiple Linux distributions.


Finally, the FSG maintains an “LSB Certified” trademark and product directory: a brand and marketplace that enable users who are looking for portable, standards-compliant solutions to find certified Linux applications and distributions. The brand is licensed to products that pass the LSB test suite and represents interoperability for the Linux platform.

Besides these major pushes, the FSG also supports such efforts as an initiative to improve Linux software installation and OpenPrinting that work hand-in-glove with the OSDL’s Portland Project.

When you look at what both groups do, at what both want to do and who supports them, the real question isn’t why the FSG and the OSDL are getting together to form the Linux Foundation, it’s what took them so long.

Be that as it may, they are getting together now under the leadership of Jim Zemlin, the former executive director of the FSG. With Zemlin at the helm, the new organization will continue to operate in all of its current locations with all its present employees. The real change, the change that matters, is that some of Linux’s leading developers and consensus builders will be working together. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what some of open source’s best and brightest can do together.

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