Several Linux vendors have confirmed they are participating in a project to turn Debian into a serious force in the enteprise.

The appearance of the Debian initiative, called the Debian Core Consortium (DCC) is a blow to the Linux Core Consortium (LCC), announced last summer and backed by Progeny, MandrakeSoft and Turbolinux. However, the LCC says it is forging ahead with its own plans.

The DCC, is to be formally announced in August at the LinuxWorld conference, according to Progeny Linux. Progeny, whose chairman Ian Murdock also founded Debian, is spearheading the DCC, with other members including Credativ, Knoppix, LinEx, Linspire, Mepis, Skolelinux, Sun Wah Linux, UserLinux, VA Linux and Xandros. A number of other companies are considering joining the project, according to Murdock.

Unlike previous group efforts such as UnitedLinux and the LCC, the supporters of the DCC generally don't directly compete with one another, Murdock said. "There's some overlap, but for the most part, we each see ourselves as bringing value to the market in different ways. Some of us are focused on specific markets, others are focused on specific geographies, but importantly, in all cases, we don't see ourselves competing at the core level," Murdock told Techworld.

Some participants, such as Linspire and VA Linux, are planning to use a common Debian-based core for their distributions, while others, such as Credativ, have signed up to provide services and support. Linspire, Xandros, Mepis and UserLinux have a desktop focus, while Knoppix produces a complete, bootable Debian-based distribution on a CD-ROM.

Sun Wah Linux is one of China's more widely used Linux versions, and VA Linux is mainly used in Japan. LinEx is a Linux distribution created for the Spanish region of Extremadura and based on Progeny's Componentized Linux (CL).

Debian's technology is highly regarded, and it is already widely used for tasks such as web hosting, but its diffuse nature has made it difficult for software and hardware vendors to put support plans into place. The DCC aims to give Debian a more predictable release cycle, and to give software and hardware vendors a single point of contact.

"The volume is already there. The main challenge is presenting the right interface to the enterprise market," said Murdock.

A large number of Linux vendors using a consistent Debian-based core could give the distribution a critical mass for software support, the DCC's members hope. Adding to the attraction is that this core - whose exact nature hasn't yet been decided on - will be in effect a reference implementation of the LSB. Vendors will certify to the LSB rather than to particular DCC software, according to Murdock.

The LSB is an initiative supported by all major Linux vendors to increase compatibility across distributions and to make sure Linux doesn't fragment as Unix did.

Previous attempts at convincing multiple Linux vendors to use a common core have not taken off so far. UnitedLinux planned to offer Suse Linux's technology as the basis for distributions from several other vendors, but fell apart after a founding member - SCO Group - decided to focus its efforts on intellectual property lawsuits. Suse itself was later bought by Novell and another founding member, Conectiva, was recently purchased by MandrakeSoft to form Mandriva.

The LCC last year announced an ambitious plan to jointly engineer a common, LSB-compliant distribution that would become the basis for future releases from all members. The LCC core has yet to appear, and Progeny says it will no longer be devoting itself to the project. Mandriva, whose technology was originally based on Red Hat Linux, says it isn't interested in switching to a Debian core.

However, the logic of uniting multiple Linux distributors is still strong, according to industry observers. Software and hardware vendors are willing to support a third Linux distribution after those of Red Hat and Novell, but need a consistent platform to work with, according to analysts.

That is the reasoning behind the DCC, and it is why the Linux Core Consortium is still pursuing its plans. Mandriva chief executive François Bançilhon said the remaining LCC members, including Turbolinux, are still "absolutely" dedicated to the project.

"The LCC is on, and we are supporting the strategy strongly," he said. "It is just taking longer than expected to converge on this. It is fair for Progeny, who is not a distribution editor anyway, to want to align itself with other Debian players."

Murdock believes the DCC faces lower hurdles in its own convergence project, because its members are already using Debian-based technology, which is already the second most widely used Linux distribution after Red Hat, by many counts.

"We already have an enormous amount of interest in supporting Debian among the ISV, IHV, and OEM community, it's just that these organizations haven't known quite how to go about doing that up to now," Murdock said. "The main challenge ahead of us is to jointly define what we consider 'core' in terms of packages."

The core will be based on the recently released "Sarge" version of Debian, Murdock said.

"We're in the process of defining as a group which packages from Sarge we collectively consider 'core', and it will be those packages that comprise the (Debian Common Core)," he said. "We've also put together a handful of packages that can be installed above standard Debian Sarge to achieve LSB 3.0 compliance, and the DCC will include those as well."