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Stack attack

Jack Schofield
Thursday November 11, 2004
The Guardian

From a business point of view, an operating system kernel - which is what Linux is - is more or less useless. What businesses want is something that can do real work, and that means a combination of many layers of software, nowadays known as "the stack".

Any software stack will include the kernel and its associated operating system, middleware, applications and utilities, all of which have to be integrated and tested. Building a stack involves turning a collection of disparate parts, many of them developed in isolation, into a stable and, above all, supportable business system.

This is a time-consuming and expensive operation. The question is, who is going to do it for open source, which has lots of choices but no organisation, no road map, no integration testing and no formal verification process.

Well, this is where the money is, so there's no shortage of candidates. Three major stack-building efforts are currently under way at Red Hat, Novell (which has taken over SuSE Linux and Ximian), and IBM. Some start-ups are also tackling the problem. Among the first to declare an interest are SourceLabs and SpikeSource.

SourceLabs is backed by Brad Silverberg, who used to run Windows while at Microsoft, and includes staff formerly at BEA Systems. SpikeSource is headed by Kim Polese, who was Sun's Java product manager and chief executive of Marimba, and backed by Ray Lane, former president of Oracle. It is being funded by a leading venture capital company, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"SpikeSource will set the standard for validating, integrating, testing, certifying and supporting open source components," says its website.

Both companies are, sensibly, starting with the working stack that has already made Linux very successful in the web server market: Lamp. This is based on Linux, the Apache web server, MySQL database, and Perl, Python or PHP. (See To this they are adding Sun's Java, which is not open source, and other applications needed to appeal to business buyers.

The ultimate aim is to turn the products of something like 85,000 independent open source projects into supportable configurations that businesses can install easily and with confidence, just as they can install Lamp web servers today.

It is hard to say how successful SourceLabs and SpikeSource might become. They are not standards agencies, and there's no reason why the open source movement should take them seriously. However, there is a benefit to having standardised software configurations, for businesses and support organisations, and this is a way to get them.

One potential problem is that all the different players, including Red Hat and Novell, could produce mutually incompatible stacks. As Sun's chief executive, Jonathan Schwartz, has pointed out, this turned out to be a major problem with the supposedly compatible Unix business on which GNU/Linux is modelled.

It is a problem we'd like GNU/ Linux to avoid, but how? The Free Standards Group's Linux Standard Base (LSB) is at least a start.

· SourceLabs


· Linux Standards Base

· Jonathan's Blog

· Lamp lights up the world,3605,941790,00.html

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