Linux' two main evangelisers, the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group (FSG) are merging to form the Linux Foundation.

The two industry consortiums are in the final stages of combining their operations, according to its new head, Jim Zemlin, previously FSG executive director.

With Linux now an established operating system for embedded, desktop and server systems, the mission that both the OSDL and FSG embarked upon in 2000 has come to an end, Zemlin said. The focus for the new foundation will be on what it can do to help the Linux community compete with its Microsoft.

The combination of the two Linux consortiums was "inevitable", said Forrester ana;lyst Michael Goulde. "The challenge Linux faces is the same one Unix faced and failed - how to become a single standard." If Linux is really to a be a long-term product for customers, the open-source operating system needs to allow application developers to "develop once for Linux so their software can run on any distribution," he added. At present, Linux developers often are forced to tweak their applications so they can run on six to seven different distributions.

Interoperability is a key area to work on as is backward compatibility between newer and older Linux releases, Zemlin said. At the same time, the foundation will look to expand the legal protection it offers developers and continue to provide a "safe haven" for Linux kernel developers.

Within the open-source community, the establishments of foundations to act as focal points to work on particular areas of technologies is an ongoing trend, according to Zemlin. The intention is that the Linux Foundation will become the go-to place for Linux development in the same way that the Eclipse Foundation is already the centre of tools development, the Apache Software Foundation the hub of Web server and middleware work and Mozilla Foundation the heart of browser and Web interface creation, he said.

The OSDL and FSG always worked closely together and had discussed merging on several occasions, Zemlin said. However, the decision to merge wasn't related to the recent OSDL downsizing, he added. In early December, the OSDL announced plans to narrow its focus after laying off just under a third of its staff and the resignation of CEO Stuart Cohen.

There was a fair amount of overlap in members between the OSDL and FSG, Zemlin said. The Linux Foundation staffed by 45 full-time employees and contractors will begin life with some 70 members including software vendors such as HP, IBM, Novell, Oracle and Red Hat as well as universities and end users. Zemlin is keen for the foundation to attract new members particularly among end users, government agencies and individual developers.

The foundation's website will go live today and will provide an introduction to the new organisation and its goals as well as links to the technical work the OSDL and the FSG were engaged in which the Linux Foundation has pledged to continue.