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Standards have always been the Unix world's Achilles heel. Not that there has ever been a scarcity of them. Much like French smoking laws, the problem has been getting anyone to pay attention. They're even more of an anathema to the typical Linux hacker, who can his squirrel his executables away in /etc/spaz/yewl_never_find_me_here if he so wishes. And probably will.

So it's a considerable achievement by the Free Standards Group not only to gather an impressive buy-in from all the commercial distros and the big iron vendors, but to provide standards that are both no-brainers to comply with and that have obvious interoperability benefits. The Group published 1.1 of LSB - the Linux Standards Base spec and the first version of the internationalization layer, Li18nux.

Dell, HP, IBM Sun and Compaq were on hand to bless the new spec, and Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox gave it a virtual blessing.

"By the end of the year, all distributions will be conformant or compliant," Scot McNeil, executive director of the Free Standards Group told us.

LSB covers file system layout - what goes where - binary formats including executables and shared libraries, system commands, and scripts. A look at the libc interfaces refers you back to the ANSI C standard, the System V interface book and the POSIX definition, amongst others, but it usefully refers you to which glibc version is considered as current.

There's quite a bit of collaboration between POSIX and LSB, with Andrew Josey chair of the Austin Group that decides extensions to POSIX also lending time and oversight to LSB.

Documentation, test tools and conformance tests are all free. A 'compliance' kitemark, available later in the year, will cost money, but McNeill, told us that the Group was a non-profit Californian corporation, and he saw it as a "market opener not a revenue generator".

Turbo will be the first distro to pass the Li18nux support we 're told, according to Unicode veteran Hideki Hiura. The internationalization effort should see Linux go some way to fixing its poor character support, compared to the commercial Unices. Even my phone's Unicode now, so there's no excuse. ®

Related Link

Free Standards Group home page

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