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FSG Launches Network to Spur Linux

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To help spur the creation of a lot more applications for Linux, the Free Standards Group (FSG) and technical publishing firm O’Reilly Media have launched the Linux Standard Base (LSB) Developer Network (LDN), a developer’s network loosely modeled after the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN).

In an interview with LinuxPlanet, Ian Murdock, the FSB’s CTO, said. that the new LDN encompasses downloadable development tools aimed mostly at helping developers comply with the latest edition of FSG’s LSB specification. The tools have been tested over recent months by software development players such as MySQL, RealNetworks, and Google.

But the new online community also includes a number of other offerings aimed at making the standard–which defines interfaces, rather than underlying architecture–“more relevant” to developers of various persuasions, according to Murdock, who founder of the Debian Project.

“The LSB is only a good thing if it is actionable,” said Murdock, who joined the FSG last year. “Development becomes a lot easier when (ISVs) are provided not just with specs, but also with tools, documentation, tutorials, etc. This is something that Microsoft has done very well with MSDN. We’re bringing the same kind of thinking (around LSB) to the LDN,”

In another interview, Jim Zemlin, the FSG’s executive director, dubbed LDN a “Linux developers portal.” The online community will “save developers a lot of time,” Zemlin told LinuxPlanet. For example, some of the downloadable tools can be used to check applications for backward compatibility.

Beyond specifications and development tools, the LDN will also provide certification services; an application directory for LSB-certified applications; tutorials and a directory of resources around how to build applications using the LSB; and link bookmarker for importing existing bookmarks according to tag, for sharing with other community members.

In addition, members of the community can also get answers from the LSB workgroup and LSB community around specific Linux software development questions.

“They might also want to share their experiences about how to target [Linux applications] more effectively, or how to improve standardization,” said Zemlin, who came to the FSG in May.

But in spawning LDN, why is the FSG following Microsoft’s lead with MSDN? And just how closely will the LDN adhere to Microsoft’s model?

“We took a lesson from a very [successful] playbook–albeit that Microsoft is a single company, in the form of a monopoly, and with a proprietary operating system,” Zemlin replied.

“Our model will be a little different,” Murdock said. “We’re not going to have a $2,000 a year membership fee, for one thing. Ours will be a free service.”

Moreover, Microsoft is not the only company with a developers network, the CTO pointed out. “Sun, Novell… pretty much anybody has one,” Murdock said.

“Virtually all major Linux distributions” have already certified to LSB 3.1 standard, Zemlin said.

Developers can also use standards compliance to obtain LSB branding, according to the executive director.

Through the LSB 3.1 standard, the FSG is essentially trying to build greater interoperability of applications across distributions for ISVs, while at the same time allowing for diversity of implementation.

“We define the platform at the interface level. You can then implement those interfaces any way you want. This allows the technologies to compete, so that the best one will win in the marketplace,” Murdock illustrated.

Murdock said that the FSG decided to modify its approach to standardization about two years ago, after becoming convinced that a “referenceable platform”–along the lines of those previously espoused by OSF1 and UnitedLinux, for instance–simply wouldn’t work.

“With Linux, that’s not practical. You just get everyone to move their (releases) in time to an (identical) underlying code base,” he elaborated.

Since that time, the FSG has roughly quadrupled in size, and participation in the organization’s working groups has multiplied tenfold, according to Murdock.

The new LDN will also include custom content from Linux Magazine editor Martin Streicher, who is providing editorial direction.

“The LDN is going to change. We’ll have more content, and it will be better organized. And we’ll have more tools,” Murdock predicated.

Right now, for example, the FSG is working on enhancements to validation tools, according to the CTO.

“We’re also trying to work more closely with distribution vendors, in more of a partnership way. You’ll see more sharing of content in the future,” he told LinuxPlanet

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