A new Linux project aimed at simplifying complex tasks on the open-source OS has been given 2.2 million euros (£1.54m) in funding from the EU.

Combined with funding from other research institutions and open-source software companies, it has 3.4 million euros (£2.4m). Backers include the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (known as INRIA), Tel-Aviv University, the University of Zurich, University of Geneva, CSP Torino, Nexedi, SOT and Mandrakesoft.

The project, called EDOS or Environment for the Development and Distribution of Free Software, hopes to build software development and management tools that will cut the costs and complexity of large IT projects, particularly those using Linux.

The tools will be especially useful to consultants who build custom versions of Linux for projects, and could also be used to shorten development cycles for Linux operating system vendors, according to Stefane Fermigier, chief executive of Nuxeo, a French software vendor that is also part of the project.

The EU agreed to help fund the project as part of its broader effort to make Europe more competitive in IT, Fermigier said. Some European governments have been promoting the use of open-source software as a way to cut costs and reduce dependency on non-European vendors.

Most modern Linux distributions are composed of thousands of individual software "packages", or components, Fermigier said, any number of which may be used in a given project. The job of integrating those components, as well as keeping track of their internal dependencies and the software versions being used, could be made far easier if better tools were available, he said.

"There's an issue any large project has to deal with at some point, and that's how to manage complex dependencies between parts so as to get an integrated, coherent whole," said Roberto Di Cosmo of University of Paris 7, another project member.

The researchers plan to develop two tools in particular. One will be a distributed peer-to-peer application to help system builders install and integrate software components running across dozens or even thousands of PCs and servers. That work is typically done today by loading the software from CDs or downloading it from an FTP server, Fermigier said.

The other tool planned is an automated quality testing suite. "Testing a Linux OS, or indeed any large application built on free/open Source software, is a time-consuming and essential operation. Part of the plan is to develop tools to make testing more efficient and more comprehensive," the group said.

The project is scheduled to last two and a half years. The first task is to analyse the problems and potentially develop specifications and prototypes, Fermigier said.