Four major Linux players are to unite their distributions around a common core based on the Linux Standard Base (LSB) 2.0, in an effort to push Linux standardisation to a new level. MandrakeSoft of France, Conectiva of Brazil, TurboLinux of Japan and Progeny Linux Systems of the US say the venture, called the Linux Core Consortium (LCC), has broad industry support from companies such as Red Hat, Novell and HP.

In some ways the LCC - announced on Wednesday - follows in the footsteps of UnitedLinux, a now-defunct attempt at uniting several vendors around a single distribution. UnitedLinux used the enterprise distribution of Novell's Suse Linux as a basic platform, with other founding members including Conectiva, Turbolinux and the SCO Group.

The LCC places more emphasis than UnitedLinux on the LSB, a project designed to keep Linux distributions from fragmenting as Unix did. The group will create a Linux distribution core based on LSB 2.0, to be used by all group members as the basis for their own distributions, and maintained under a joint development framework. The core, available in the first quarter of next year, will be the basis for Conectiva Enterprise Server, Mandrakesoft Corporate Server, Progeny Componentized Linux and Turbolinux Enterprise Server.

Greater standardisation in the Linux world would simplify things for system administrators by reducing differences such as installation procedures and application availability. Software and hardware vendors could also benefit - the LCC plans to allow them to certify for the single core instead of for each individual distribution.

This programme could prove a draw to new LCC members, allowing them to participate in a wider industry initiative and gain access to the certifications, the LCC said. By closely tying its efforts to the LSB, the group hopes it will generally boost the LSB's position as a de facto Linux distribution standard.

The core will include extensions defined with the LSB futures group, including a common kernel extension, the LCC said, and will include guidelines developed by OSDL working groups in future releases. The group plans to initially support the IA32, EM64T (Intel's 32-bit platform with 64 bit extensions), IA64 and AMD64, and is aiming at an 18-24 month release cycle. In the longer term, the LCC hopes to increase interoperability between two widely used packaging technologies, those from Debian and Red Hat (RPM).

Structurally, the consortium won't be a separate company, but a development framework in which each company will work. The LCC has its own board of managers for handling business issues, as well as a technical steering committee. Members will be permitted to use the LCC name and logo on their products.

The Free Standards Group, which looks after the Linux Standard Base, said the LCC's creation of a binary implementation of the LSB is an important step forward in standardisation efforts. "(This) will help in our efforts to secure widespread ISV/IHV certification for the LSB," said Free Standards Group executive director Jim Zemlin in a statement.

The two biggest Linux vendors, Red Hat and Novell, expressed their support - though they have not yet decided to join the group. "ISVs and developers need clear-cut standards," said Karen Bennet, vice president of Applications and Tools at Red Hat, in a statement. "The LSB and the Linux Core Consortium help balance the needs of enterprise customers, ISVs, and Linux vendors and will continue to keep Linux open."

Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, the Open Source Development Lab and Computer Associates also said they would support the LCC's standardisation efforts.