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AIX EXTRA: LSB Benefits Distributors, Providers and Customers

In the IT world, standardization is often viewed as evidence of a technology's maturation. Linux* is a case in point. This technology is certainly in full bloom, with a telling sign of the open-source OS's growth coming in the form of the Linux Standard Base (LSB).

If you're unfamiliar with the LSB, this is your introduction to an exciting standard. Yes, the words "exciting" and "standard" just appeared in the same sentence. What's exciting about the LSB is its potential to help customers maintain a flexible and stable commercial environment for new applications running on Linux systems.

In addition to specifying the OS interfaces, the LSB defines how to provide shrink-wrapped applications that can run on any certified Linux OS at a standard level on a particular type of hardware. This means that Linux customers can start checking for a single label when they shop for software--just like they do when shopping for another widely popular desktop system. However, Linux customers can still use their favorite certified Linux distribution.

'Linux is Linux'

Most people have heard the phrase, "Linux is Linux," and that statement applies to many applications today. Interest in standardizing interfaces goes back more than 15 years. The early POSIX standards focused on standardizing APIs to provide application portability across OSs. The UNIX* standards, starting with the Single UNIX Specification (SUS), or UNIX95, represented a breakthrough because enough APIs were standardized to facilitate source code portability across SUS-certified OSs for robust commercial applications.

The LSB is helping broaden that statement for many more applications. While still fairly new in the Linux industry, it's developed rapidly since its first release in June 2001. The broad use of references to existing UNIX standards where appropriate has enabled the LSB to grow quickly to critical mass for commercial applications. The recent release of LSB 2.0 addresses not only the core of the SUS Version 3 OS function, but also expands to areas like UNIX threads and C++ interfaces.

The LSB expands on the UNIX standards in another way. While it specifies APIs, it also specifies application binary interfaces (ABIs), which define how the full binary image should appear. The binary specification is tied to a specific hardware architecture. The LSB level and hardware architecture family, including 32- or 64-bit specifications, are usually noted in the architecture identifier. This combination yields a standards set for each LSB level, meaning that a software package would display "LSB 1.3 certified for IA32" (Intel* x86 architecture) or "LSB 2.0 certified for PPC64" (Power Architecture*) messages. In addition to the binary image specification, the LSB covers where the installation is to occur. This helps remedy the problem of applications installing conflicting modules with other applications, and it requires standard-conforming installation processes.

To accompany the ABI definition, the LSB includes several certification types in addition to the OS certification type that's widely used for UNIX OSs. Linux distributors are supporting LSB certification; for example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 and SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 8.0 were certified for LSB 1.3 on POWER* and zSeries* systems last year.

Kay Tate is a senior consultant with IBM. Kay can be reached at



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