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boston.internet.com: Linux, Linux Everywhere

Aug 22, 2000, 20:54 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Gavin McCormick)

By Gavin McCormick, boston.internet.com

It's open-source week, folks, with news pouring out of the LinuxWorld gathering of software developers in San Jose.

The conference's Big News is the effort by a batch of the technology industry's heavy hitters to propel Linux into the Microsoft-dominated market for desktop operating systems. And a Cambridge company is at the movement's center.

Companies including Compaq, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, as well as organizations centered around the software, including Red Hat, TurboLinux, VA Linux and Free Software Foundation, have pledged to support a new organization called the Gnome Foundation.

The foundation is designed to unite developers and corporate partners, with the goal of creating a complete set of Linux-based applications that can provide true competition for Microsoft Windows operating software.

Developers love Linux, which has openly available source code and can be adapted, modified or have applications added by anyone and, in its less complex forms, is distributed for free. Its insider popularity has helped it grab almost a quarter of the market in software packages for larger computer servers.

But, after a flurry of news and investor fascination last year, Linux has languished in the consumer desktop market, accounting for just 4 percent of sales last year, compared with Microsoft's (MSFT) 87 percent.

Red Hat (RHAT), which sells souped-up versions of the free operating software, was last year's biggest Linux star, but since January it has lost more than 85 percent of its market value.

Into the breach steps the Gnome Foundation, which will attempt to make Linux more consumer-friendly. Central to this effort is the Cambridge firm Helix Code, which has created a Gnome desktop software designed to be as easy to use as Windows or Apple's Macintosh. Helix Code's chief technical officer, Miguel de Icaza, is the founder of the overall Gnome project, dedicated to Linux's spread.

The support of big company partners is seen as crucial both in adding up-to-date applications that will make the software more popular and in installing it in popular hardware, such as IBM ThinkPad laptops and Sun's Solaris computers.

de Icaza said, "The support of these industry leaders will help us to achieve our dream of building a fully free, easy-to-use desktop environment that will be used by many millions of people."

Helix Code CEO Nat Friedman said, "For Gnome, the next step is applications. Now, industry and developer support has rallied around the Gnome platform and major contributions are coming in from all sides. We will soon offer a total desktop solution that will reshape the industry. Gnome has arrived."

The Gnome Foundation has also created an advisory board, whose members include a Needham-based, not-for-profit software standards consortium called the Object Management Group. The OMG has developed an industry standard called Corba that allows all applications to work with each other, regardless of platform or language.

de Icaza said, "The OMG has a lot of experience creating and managing standards involving a wide range of corporate interest. I think that we can leverage the OMG's expertise in these areas to our advantage. Its involvement also gives OMG members a chance to understand the needs of the Linux community and build specifications that take our needs under consideration."

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