Linux community getting its second wind

Linux is entering its second phase of growth, which will be defined by better cooperation among developers, new licensing options, and a stronger operating system, according the leaders of the nonprofit Linux Foundation.

The foundation, a consortium of open source developers and companies, opened a three-day think tank, the first ever Linux Foundation Summit, inviting some of the most influential and prominent Linux kernel designers, software developers and user companies that are foundation members.

The invitees were asked to begin hammering out how to refine development of the open source operating system, from device drivers to mobile support, and to define standards for building applications that can easily run across Linux distributions.

The group also took on the soon-to-be published GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0, an important evolution of Linux's open source licensing model. Despite the recent hype around GPLv3, especially concerning cross-licensing patent deals involving Microsoft and various Linux vendors, the new license was characterized as another option on a long list of open source licenses.

"Everybody just chill when v3 comes out," said Dan Frye, vice president of Linux and open technology at IBM and of its Linux Technology Center. "It is going to happen, it has been a long process, we will work with some of the communities that adopt it and we will see how things go," he said to applause during a panel session.

The first day was open to select media outlets, but Thursdays and Friday sessions were not.

Linux's "tremendous opportunity"

The summit opened, however, with the message that Linux is entering a period of development that will result in it becoming even more competitive.

"We have a tremendous opportunity with Linux," said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation. "We want it to be wildly successful."

To achieve that goal, he said, the foundation will protect Linux from attacks by competitors, nurture developers and untangle legal issues.

"From an end user perspective, what you will get out of this is much better software in a much shorter time. That is what we are doing here," he said.

During a series of panels, kernel developers, users and lawyers discussed some of the pressing open source issues.

User companies such as Motorola called for better support of mobile features that could make embedded Linux a preferred device platform for hosting applications.

"If you look at the next generation of the mobile market it is all about the [software]," said Christy Wyatt, vice president of Motorola. "Can I support mobile messaging, multimedia? The voice call is a commodity and [the question] becomes what are the other things I can charge for?"

Motorola's plans call for Linux to comprise about 60 percent of its mobile portfolio in the near future, according to Wyatt. The company already ships about 6,000 devices that include Linux. "In the mobile space it is about broadening our opportunity."

Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth said the open source community has to become even more efficient in working together and drop squabbles that hinder progress.

"Collaboration is more important than our differences," he said.

Shuttleworth said different iterations of similar tools, such as bug-tracking software, should be able to programmatically talk to one another as a way to eliminate redundant work efforts, and capabilities, such as distributed revision control, are keys to streamlining the development process. He also called for standards to foster integration.

"One big barrier to collaboration is that each project has its own tools with its own authentication system," Shuttleworth said.

Linux application certification

The foundation also tackled the idea of certifying applications to Linux and pointed to how to jump-start its Linux Standard Base (LSB), which ensures applications can be written once and run on many Linux distributions. All major distributions comply with the LSB, but the issue is that certified applications number only in the hundreds.

Brian Aker, director of architecture for MySQL, suggested that certification efforts should focus on newly developed applications and not porting older applications to Linux.

"MySQL works when new development gets done," said Aker. "When new applications are built on Linux that is how we win."

Legal experts also tackled burning issues over licensing and recent patent claims made by Microsoft.

"Companies using Linux don't have to fear patent suits," said Mark Radcliffe, a partner at DLA Piper US who advises companies on intellectual property issues. "I think the Microsoft strategy went awry. I think it is irrelevant if you want to use Linux."

Legal experts also debated the comparison of open source and open standards and said the world is talking about open standards not different Linux distributions.

"We need to accept Linux for what it is, software," said Jason Wacha, vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel for MontaVista Software. "Let's now figure out a way to standardize, use this thing, make it better and build stuff on top of it."

The foundation's Zemlin said everything adds up to the fact that the world now understands Linux. "Nobody needs to explain anymore why open source is good. It's a multibillion dollar industry and everyone understands that."

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John Fontana

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