Four small Linux vendors have jointly created a new Linux Standard Base 2.0-compliant binary set that they hope will attract independent software vendors and hardware makers.

Conectiva, MandrakeSoft, Progeny Linux and Turbolinux will all share the core binaries in an effort to gain wider use of their products.

Ian Murdock, chief strategist and co-founder of Indianapolis-based Progeny and a founder of the Debian open-source project, said the idea is to help reduce incompatibilities for users by building a code base that's compliant with the Linux Standard Base 2.0 specifications. "The four companies realise that the Linux platform core is a commodity" and that they should compete with each other geographically in the areas in which they already have a presence, he said.

The four companies have created the Linux Core Consortium to organise the effort and build the standardized Linux core. They plan to pool their development efforts to create and maintain a common Linux distribution core based on the Free Standard Group's LSB 2.0 standard.

The LSB was created to develop and promote standards to increase the compatibility among Linux distributions and enable software applications to run on any compliant system. The four companies will build their products on top of this common core as part of their development process, with release cycles of 18 to 24 months.

The common core is scheduled to be available in the first quarter of 2005 and will be incorporated into Conectiva Enterprise Server, MandrakeSoft Corporate Server, Progeny Componentized Linux and Turbolinux Enterprise Server.

Individually, the companies don't have the clout and customer base to attract strong independent software vendor and hardware vendor interest, Murdock said. But by working together, they hope that will change. "It's really a win-win for everyone," he said.

The move is reminiscent of the UnitedLinux effort that brought Curitiba, Brazil-based Conectiva and Tokyo-based Turbolinux together with SuSE and the former Caldera (now The SCO Group) to try the same idea back in May 2002.

But UnitedLinux largely came undone after SCO filed its now-infamous lawsuit against IBM in March 2003, alleging that IBM illegally contributed some of SCO's System V Unix code to Linux. Then Tokyo-based Turbolinux underwent ownership changes and largely pulled out of the US market, causing more instability for UnitedLinux. And late last year, Novell bought SuSE, bringing the Linux company under its wing.

Murdock said the latest effort will incorporate some of the lessons learned from UnitedLinux. "I think it was a great idea that was badly executed," he said. "In a lot of ways, we're trying to realise the potential UnitedLinux had."

The four companies said that their partnership is an open development project and that other interested Linux companies will be encouraged to join. The two largest Linux vendors, Red Hatand SuSE, have been asked to take part but have declined to do so at this time. Both companies, however, said that they support standardisation efforts and the LSB.

Analysts said the group has its work cut out for it. "I understand what they're doing," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Robert Frances. "But without the support of vendors, this effort will have limited success," because Red Hat and SUSE have already given the software vendors the Linux platforms they need.