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Editor's Note: Band of Brothers

Jul 15, 2005, 23:30 (12 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Way back in May of 2002, four Linux distribution companies got together and decided to form a common Linux standard to build their wares upon. A collective response to the then and still commercially dominant Red Hat Linux, this consortium was called UnitedLinux. And it was declared good.

Well, we all know how that one turned out. Read the memo.

In November of 2003, another enterprise-level Linux distribution was announced: this one spearheaded by Bruce Perens. Known as UserLinux, this Debian-based distribution fould serve as a true Linux standard to which independent software and hardware vendors could write or configure once. And it was declared good.

No one is sure what's going on with UserLinux. A new installation CD was released on February 11 of this year, and there was some talk about pulling UserLinux packages into Ubuntu in March, and then nothing. Perens is off working for SourceLabs and the buzz on the streets is that UserLinux is fading.

In November of 2004, Progeny, Mandriva, and TurboLinux got together and decided to form a common Linux standard to build their wares upon. A collective response to the then and still commercially dominant Red Hat Linux, this consortium was called the Linux Core Consortium. And it was declared good.

And... nothing happened. For whatever reason, the three companies were not abale to get their collective acts synced up. I suspect, based on their acquisitions of Connectiva and Lycoris, Mandriva thought it had better things to do. TurboLinux seems to be buy trying to carve out the Asia market share with Red Flag Linux and Novell.

Progeny seems to have wanted the LCC to work, because now they are trying again with their Debian Core Consortium. The question is, in the face of all of these collaboration failures, can they make this work?

Part UnitedLinux (because of the many companies they are trying to get on board) and part UserLinux (because of the common Debian element), the DCC hopes to be what none of these three collaborations could ever be: a single successful enterprise distribution that will benefit ISVs, IHVs, and users alike.

While it is easy to draw historical parallels to the failures of the past (so easy, I've already done it), these examples may not all apply to the DCC.

UnitedLinux keeled over long before Caldera/SCO went insane and started using litigation as a revenue model. One reason was that while their intentions were good, there was too much user/market overlap for these companies to really make an effort to share technology. Another was the dominance of one of the players very early on: SuSE Linux made it quite clear who was running this show, to the exclusion of all else, even Ransom Love and others who came up with UnitedLinux.

I am unsure if UserLinux has failed, but by gosh it's been pretty quiet lately. I will not speculate, but will put forth this though: if UserLinux is not a failure, then why isn't the new DCC just joining up with them?

I have already mentioned the reasons why I think the LCC tanked. Basically, Mandriva wants to go its own way.

Will these things happen to the DCC?

Not necessarily.

For one, and this is the huge advantage: all of the distros joining the DCC will be Debian-based. While this seems obvious, the complexity of this advantage is deep. 100 percent of the participant's core code will be the same, so many technologicial and engineering hurdles faced by UnitedLinux and the LCC will not be in place.

Second, as several analysts have pointed out, many of the Debian-based distros will not be targeting the same audience. That leaves them free to share more without fear of cutting their own throats.

So, with that in mind, I think DCC could work. It will be interesting to see who the final players will be. But that Murdock, he's a cagey one, and we will have to wait until August to get anything from him.

That said, I wonder if this ongoing drive to consolidate is going to be a part of Linux and open source for the rest of time? Now, when I say consolidate, I do not mean technologically, I mostly mean in a business sense. While all of these distros bring a strong diversity to Linux overall, there seems to be a growing trend that business-wise, they need to band together in order to succeed.

Are we going to see more consolidation? Yes, without a doubt. There's too much potential revenue at stake not to try to pull together and take a shot. Especially now that Microsoft's vaunted lead is eroding away.

But does this mean we will see less distros? Heck, no. Even if distros consort, or get acquired, or dies off, there will always be more to take their place. The best will survive in pure Darwinian fashion.