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My, what a cynical world we live in. No sooner had the UnitedLinux initiative been announced and there was instant speculation that it was nothing more than an attempt to compete with Red Hat.If you haven’t yet heard about the UnitedLinux initiative, it’s essentially an agreement between Caldera, SuSE, Connectiva and TurboLinux to develop and ship a common Linux server binary. According to Ransom Love, CEO, president and founder of Caldera Linux, Red Hat is welcome to join the UnitedLinux initiative any time it wants — and Red Hat for its part isn’t too fussed either way, because all the development will be returned to the Open Source community where Red Hat can grab it anyway.Love says other Linux companies such as Mandrake are also welcome to join UnitedLinux — the reason there weren’t more companies involved from the “get-go” is that Love reckons it was hard enough getting four companies to agree. UnitedLinux will initially be based on SuSE’s advanced server Linux distribution, primarily because it is the most advanced in terms of certification on various platforms —- the most important of which is IBM.Unlike Linux distributions to date, the UnitedLinux server binary will not be available for free download — the source code will be available but binaries independently compiled from this source code will not be able to carry the “certified by UnitedLinux” branding.Instead, the UnitedLinux server binary will be licensed in the same manner that you would license a copy of Windows 2000 or XP — albeit at a much lower cost and without the near compulsory “upgrade options” that Microsoft is intent on.According to Love there are several long-term implications that arise out of the UnitedLinux initiative: much lower R&D costs for all involved; faster, easier certification of applications running on various Linux platforms; and most importantly, a more sustainable business model. Love says that, to date, Linux adoption has been thought to be hampered because of the perception that there are too many flavours and not enough business applications. However, Love says that there is another reason — a lack of a sustainable business model that allows Linux suppliers to make a profit and stay in business.Geoff Lawrence, IBM Australia’s regional manager for Linux sales and marketing, supports Love in his assertions, saying that to date IBM has had to support multiple Linux distributions on each of its four major platforms. “It’s been expensive and painful, so this is a great initiative for us and our customers. It means we now only have to support two distributions — Red Hat and UnitedLinux,” says Lawrence.With lower R&D costs, a more conventional licensing model and faster certification, UnitedLinux may well be a key development in allowing a wider than ever uptake of the Linux operating system. Hopefully, the UnitedLinux initiative will avoid the splintering that did so much damage to Unix momentum in the late 80s and early 90s.A recent story in Computerworld, a sister publication of CIO, quoted several local integrators as saying that Linux was just a “blip” and that there was no real demand. This is a bit like asking a Toyota salesperson to talk up Ford’s sales prospects. I strongly suspect that most mainstream integrators have little or no Linux expertise and already have an installed base of customers firmly wedded to Seattle, so it’s not in their interest to even admit that Linux has any kind of prospects.It’s the same reason that Microsoft pulled out of the operating system shootouts at the recent Computerworld Expo — to have taken part would have been a public acknowledgment by Microsoft that it perceived Linux as a real threat.How big a threat Linux is to Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Sun, remains to be seen, but with heavyweights like IBM and HP firmly behind it, the UnitedLinux initiative could well change the world of IT far beyond Bill’s worst nightmare.It’s the old Chinese curse, really: “May you live in interesting times”.When he’s not vigorously wielding his Linux wooden spoon, Casement is business manager of CIO. He can be contacted at email@example.com.