A Standardized Linux Desktop?

Standardized Linux desktop components are needed in order for the Linux desktop to achieve widespread adoption, according to the Free Standards Group (FSG).

The popular GNOME and KDE environments are among the more popular Linux desktops, as well as up and comers like the Xfce environment. Though efforts are underway to help create some compatibility between the various desktops, to date there has not been a standards body effort to create a Linux desktop standard.

To that end, the FSG is spearheading an initiative called The Linux Standard Base Desktop Project with the aim of standardizing core pieces of the Linux desktop. The effort has already gained support from a who’s who of Linux industry vendors, including Red Hat, Novell, IBM, HP, Intel and Adobe.

The Linux Standard Base Desktop Project will be run as a subproject of the FSG’s most notable effort, the Linux Standards Base (LSB), which recently released version 3.0 of its specification.

“While the desktop does make use of parts of the existing LSB (file hierarchy, config files, etc) the LSB has not covered libraries and install behaviors unique to the desktop,” Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group, told internetnews.com.

The Linux Standard Base Desktop Project is looking to standardize on a base set of libraries, APIs and interoperability standards. When completed, the specification will also include developer documentation, example implementations, as well as test suites and development environments. Applications that comply with the standard and past certification testing will be eligible to receive a certification mark indicating Linux Standard Base Desktop compliance.

The Linux Standard Base Desktop Project is not the only effort aiming to create compatibility across the various Linux desktops. Freedesktop.org is perhaps the most notable such effort, though it is by its own admission not a formal standards organization. The goal of Freedesktop.org is to help facilitate interoperability for the various Linux desktops such as GNOME and KDE.

The new FSG sponsored standardization effort is expected to build on top of the best practices already established by freedesktop.org.

Novell’s OpenSUSE.org project has also recently offered up the Better Desktop initiative as part of its contribution to help improve the Linux desktop. The Better Desktop initiative is focused on usability issues.

FSG’s Zemlin said his group is looking into making use of Novell OpenSUSE.org’s Better Desktop initiative’s usability materials in order to develop the Linux Standard Base Desktop Project specification. He added that Novell is a member and participant in the workgroup.

Much of the user confusion surrounding the “Linux Desktop” is that there is actually no single Linux desktop. There are actually many different desktop UI’s including GNOME, KDE and Xfce. Zemlin hopes that the new effort will hopefully help to reduce that confusion.

“We want to make it easier for ISVs to target the desktop but still retain innovation and choice,” Zemlin explained. “So far it’s been a successful strategy on the server so we think this can also happen on the desktop.”

“I know that early ISVs involved in the workgroup (Adobe and Real Networks) are very happy with the project and believe it will make things easier for them.”

The promise of the Linux desktop as a more mainstream reality has existed for almost as long as there has the idea of a Linux desktop. Yet, Zemlin argues that it will take time for greater Linux desktop adoption to occur.

“The desktop needs a thriving ecosystem of application developers,” Zemlin said. “A strong standard like the LSB will help make that a reality.”

The first LSB desktop specification is expected to published in early 2006.

News Around the Web