The first full version of UnitedLinux will be available from November 18.
That's one of the main snippets of news from an informative presentation on the progress and rationale of the UnitedLinux from a presentation by Gregory Blepp, VP at SuSE and board member of UnitedLinux, made at the London Expo show in London yesterday.
UnitedLinux is a marriage of four distros - SuSE, Caldera, Conectiva and TurboLinux - designed to address the needs of the business market, particularly in terms of round the clock, local support. It's also evolving into a scheme to develop a channel for Linux sales (of which more later).
Blepp, who's background is at hard headed commercial organisation like Network Associates and CA, said that Linux market can no longer rely on venture capitol to sustain it so it needs to become more financially focused. Linux, in short, needs to address the needs of business people - not just appeal to the tech savvy.
That means developing a high quality business-orientated Linux, which provides on Linux version for hardware vendors to certify against, shorn of some less than mission-critical ad ons.
"An IT administrator at HSBC can live without the Klingon version of the GUI," Blepp explained.
It also means creating an annual release cycle that gives the certainty enterprises crave with, in between, bug fixes coming in what "other companies call service packs", he said.
United Colours of Linux
At its inception UnitedLinux reached out to other distributors such as Red Hat to join its collaborative efforts. Red Hat, and Mandrake (which is strong on the desktop), demurred and Blepp is now spinning this rebuff as a positive.
Hardware vendors want alternatives, and nobody wants to see the creation of another dominant player like Microsoft, he argued.
UnitedLinux isn't that, isn't Red Hat and it would be unfair to present it as a rationalisation exercise. So what is it exactly? That's not exactly clear just yet, but some guidelines can be laid down.
UnitedLinux is a "distro" that shares common elements. The four partners retain branding rights, so you'll still find "SuSE powered by UnitedLinux". And each distro can add on its own features (for example a disc for Chinese language support from TurboLinux). But there's a contractual agreement to put the same files in the same places, which is long overdue, and signals a win for the Linux Standards Base initiative.
There'll still be an element of competition between the four main members of the UnitedLinux alliance, Blepp explained.
"UnitedLinux doesn't mean that we love each other. We're trying to create a balanced situation where Linux software vendors are healthy, which will ultimately benefit corporate accounts," said Blepp.
UnitedLinux means it's partners avoid duplicating efforts resulting in lower development cost, lower certification costs and faster time to market. Important, especially since Linux distros were short of cash, Blepp explained.
Why not to merge
So why not create a single company or, alternatively, a joint venture to market Linux?
Blepp said, along with its technology experience assets, the Linux industry comes with a great deal of egos - so a merger would have taken a long time to trash out. He suggested, half jokingly, that it might take until 2010 to deliver something, while energy would be diverted away from fulfilling customers needs.
A joint venture would have helped nobody - except lawyers, he added.
Particularly in the wake of Microsoft's latest licensing programme, many companies are expressing a willingness to try alternatives. Linux has the technology and what it needs now is to get people experienced in professional rollouts - like IBM and EDS - to push out the technology, Blepp explained.
So UnitedLinux is a channel play, but question marks exist over whether integrators can be persuaded that there's money to be made in Linux.
Some unease was expressed by attendees at Bleep's presentation about whether UnitedLinux was committed to open standards, especially since its release of a closed second beta of the "distro" three weeks ago.
"UnitedLinux is not redeveloping the world and we still believe in open standards," Bleep reassured people, pointing out that with only 200 engineers in the organisation, it'd be foolish to cut of the contribution open source developers could make to the project.
Meanwhile downloads of the second beta are going like gangbusters, with United Linux having to provision an additional two 100Mbps lines to cope with demand.
Unusually for a software project UnitedLinux is on track to deliver the final version of the product (Q4 2002), with the software available from November 15.
A second release is due next year and will include improvements to clustering for file and print, UnitedLinux has just recruited someone from Novell for this task. ®