Linux vendors are set to back a new desktop standard, but observers question whether it can really end the problems caused by the diversity of Gnome and KDE.

More than a dozen technology companies, including IBM, Red Hat and Novell will support a desktop Linux standard, included in the newest version of the long standing server specification, Linux Standard Base, and intended to help developers write applications for both the main Linux desktops.

Linux experts welcome the move, but question how it will work: "If we actually unified the desktops would we do it by creating a third interface? And are we sure that that's helping?" asked Bruce Perens, vice president of professional services with open-source vendor Sourcelabs.

The non-profit Free Standards Group (FSG), which maintains the Linux Standard Base and other open standards, announced plans in October for a desktop standard, called the Linux Standard Base Desktop Project. The desktop standard has been created, and integrated into version 3.1 of the Linux Standard Base, to be released next week, at the Linux Desktop Summit.

"This ... will make it easier for application developers to target the complete Linux platform; thereby solving a major hindrance for Linux desktop adoption," said an FSG statement.

Linux providers Red Hat, Novell, Ubuntu and Linspire are expected to certify their products as compliant to the new LSB standard, and system vendors IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell also support the initiative, said the FSG.

While Linux has been a successful server operating system, it has not been widely adopted on the desktop, in part because software developers have been reluctant to create Linux versions of their desktop applications.

Matters are not helped by the fact that Linux supports two competing desktop environments, Gnome and KDE, making it hard for developers to create one piece of software that will run on all versions of Linux.

"The problem with standards on Linux is that there are currently too many of them," said Gregory Raiz, president of Raizlabs, a software company in Brookline, Massachusetts. "Developers want to be able to write to a standard and know that their application is going to work on all desktops."

The Free Software Group hopes that its combined LSB standard will eventually achieve that goal, but it will be hard work to create a standard that is compatible with both KDE and Gnome, said Perens.

"How they're going to pull it off will be interesting," he said, predicting that in the end, the providers may be forced to simply choose one desktop.

Either way, the FSG project is addressing an important need by attempting to unify Gnome and KDE, Perens said. "I would love for there to be software like this and I would like it to be as easy to program as either of these desktops."

The Linux Desktop Summit is being held in San Diego on Monday and Tuesday of next week.