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Executive Interview: Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation director

Jan 26, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Foreword — The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and Free Standard Group (FSG) merged on Jan. 21, creating the Linux Foundation, a single entity aiming to take responsibility for Linux standardization, promotion, and protection. wasted no time interviewing Jim Zemlin, the new mega-organization's executive director.

Q1 — Why did the Free Standards Group and Open Source Development Labs
decide to merge? [story]

A1 — Both groups have long shared the same ultimate goal — to accelerate the adoption of Linux — and have worked together in the past. Discussions about how the two groups could work together or join forces have been taking place for some time. Due to the maturity of the Linux market and the new requirements that brings to the support for the operating system, the board members of both organizations decided it was time to officially bring the groups together.

Q2 — Traditionally, the FSG has operated as a standards body, while the OSDL has been more of an industry working group and marketing body. How will the Linux Foundation operate?

A2 — The Linux Foundation will bring the best of both organizations together to support Linux's ability to compete in an evolving market. We're focused on improving Linux in three key areas: standardization, promotion, and protection. All of our activities are organized under one of these umbrellas. By bringing the most important activities from each organization to bear in the formation of The Linux Foundation, we believe the market and community impact will be far greater than what each organization could achieve alone.

Q3 — How will the Linux Foundation fund its activities? Can you reassure our readers that the organization has a solid financial base?

A3 — The Linux Foundation is funded by member dues, and we are confident the income is in perfect balance with our infrastructure and activities.

Q4 — How will the Linux Foundation prioritize the dozen or so projects inherited from the FSG and OSDL? Will resources be allotted according to member contributions of time and energy? The potential for certification-based revenue generation? Or some other means?

A4 — Our mission is to enhance the Linux platform and to work with our members to provide those services needed for Linux to compete with proprietary platforms. Our priorities are in three areas: standardization, promotion and protection. Standardization includes the LSB and our developer support; promotion includes being a neutral spokesperson and hosting collaboration forums and workgroups. Protection involves our legal work, and providing a safe haven to Linus and other Linux developers. Our members and our staff have identified those three areas as the most pressing needs. They are also areas best fulfilled by a neutral trade group — not by a corporate entity or community project.

Q5 — For our device-oriented readers, can you speak to how the change might affect the OSDL's Carrier Grade Linux and Mobile Linux working groups? Will activities there increase, diminish, or stay the same? Should organizations consider joining the Linux Foundation in order to participate in or contribute to these projects?

A5 — We urge all interested organizations to join The Linux Foundation. It's the best place for companies and community groups to collaborate to solve the challenges facing Linux. We want the right people at the table. We are still working out the specifics of all of our work groups and how they will be integrated into The Linux Foundation's overall charter.

Q6 — With regard to the LSB, we reported several years ago that the standard would adopt a modular approach, in part in order to better allow for differences between servers, desktops, and embedded systems. Has this approach worked out? Can you bring our readers up to speed on current LSB activities and plans?

A6 — Yes. The key to modularization is to allow flexibility without creating confusion through too much choice. We've moved to an architecture where the LSB is modular in how it's constructed, but there are still a very small number of standards built using those modules. The modularity makes it easier to “scale out,” i.e., for other groups with expertise and/or interest in more specific parts of the Linux platform space to get involved and extend LSB.

For example, we have groups working on multimedia, accessibility, printing, and other areas producing LSB modules, and the recent packaging effort is producing an LSB module as well. But at the end of the day, a subset of those modules are aggregated together into “the LSB standard.” In other words, modules are purely an artifact of the collaborative process and are not visible from the end user point of view. There's still just one LSB as far as most of the world is concerned.

Q7. The LSB has long underpinned OSDL specifications such as the CGL standard and the (possibly moribund) embedded Platform Specification that was bequeathed to the OSDL by the erstwhile Embedded Linux Consortium. Will these and possibly other OSDL specifications ultimately become modules on top of the LSB, or will they remain separate, register-able rather than certifiable specifications?

A7 — It depends. Certain projects, such as DTL (Desktop Linux), will become LSB modules, as they don't stand alone and are more properly part of the larger platform. Others, such as CGL (Carrier Grade Linux), may evolve into new LSB certifications. We're still working through the details and will have more to say about how the OSDL working groups integrate with the LSB in coming weeks.

Q8. What is the status of the FSG's interesting recently announced Packaging Workgroup?

A9 — We are in the process of defining the packaging API we started sketching out at the Packaging Summit. Anyone can get involved by joining the LF's packaging mailing list. It's going to be a fairly small API, so I'm hopeful we'll be able to complete it within a few months and get it implemented in the community distros fairly quickly, and in enough time that it'll percolate to the enterprise distros by 2008. In other words, I'm hoping the packaging API will be part of the next major version of the LSB, LSB 4.0, which is due out in 2008.

Q9 — What new Linux technologies or trends do you find exciting? What are the most significant opportunities available to Linux at this point in time? Where will Linux will be five years from now?

“In five years we think it will be a clear software duopoly with Linux and Microsoft fighting it out in the data center, on the desktop, and in the embedded space.”

A9 — It probably sounds self-serving, but I'm very excited about The Linux Foundation. By banding together, the entire Linux industry and community can deliver a superior software product without locking customers in. For the first time in computing history, an industry has united behind an open standard and a neutral foundation. It really hasn't been done to this scale before. I'm also very excited about the strength of the Linux market. Look at the new players entering the space in the last two years, look at the rise of Linux in all areas of computing in all geographies. Virtualization is a very interesting area technically. I'm also excited about the trend for more governments and end users to mandate open standards and open source from their vendors. People are understanding the nature of computing freedom and how open standards enable it.

In five years we think it will be a clear software duopoly with Linux and Microsoft fighting it out in the data center, on the desktop, and in the embedded space. We also see huge growth of Linux on the desktop in the developing world, places like India, China, and Brazil.

Q10. What are the most significant problems faced by Linux, in terms of technical advancement and more widespread adoption? Are the hurdles legal, technical, or political?

A10 — That's something our members and our staff have obviously thought a lot about. We really feel the priorities of The Linux Foundation should be providing those services needed by our members to solve those challenges facing Linux.

Obviously, fragmentation is a key challenge facing something as distributed and open as Linux. While the collaborative nature of open source in some ways works to solve the fragmentation challenge itself, there is a need for collaboration around an open standard to make things easier on everyone, especially develpers. The LSB is solving that challenge and evolving as Linux evolves.

You see that in the new packaging API Ian Murdock and the LSB team are currently working on with the distros. This will make it easier for both distros and ISVs. We want it to be dead simple for an application developer to target Linux and work with the distros.

Besides that, on the technical side, we see the need for better coordination and testing between upstream and downstream software components. Our new testing framework and our collaboration vehicles should help with that.

Legally, there are issues that we are addressing through our legal defense fund [story] and patents commons [story] initiatives. I think we're in very good shape on the legal side, probably much better than most people understand.

Politically, I think we're doing extremely well. I'd be more worried about the other guys when you see the trend of government and individual companies mandating truly open standards.

Q11. Is more consolidation likely around Linux standardization efforts? For example, could the Linux Foundation merge with the Open Group, the Open Platform Alliance, the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF), the Linux Phone Standards Forum (LiPS), the SCOPE Alliance, the Khronos Group, Software Freedom Law Center, PubPat, etc., etc., etc.?

A11 — We feel there already is consolidation around Linux standardization efforts, namely the LSB. The LSB is the only approved Linux ISO standard. It's also the only standard supported by all major distribution vendors and an increasing number of ISVs, including RealNetworks, SAP, MySQL, and many others. We really have all major players at the table, and are the only Linux standardization authority.

The merger of FSG and OSDL to become the Linux Foundation means there is even more consolidation with one entity responsible for the Linux trademark, certification, and standardization activities. That being said, we are always looking to collaborate with other industry organizations as it makes sense. For instance, we currently collaborate with the Software Freedom Law Center.

About the interviewee — Jim Zemlin is executive director of the Linux Foundation, where he leads a unified group of the world's leading Linux and open source proponents to promote, protect, and standardize Linux in the enterprise. Zemlin was previously Executive Director of the Free Standards Group (FSG), which merged with the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) to form the Linux Foundation. Zemlin previously served as vice president of marketing for Covalent Technologies, which he describes as the leader in products and services for the Apache web server. Prior to that, he was a member of the founding management team of Corio, a leading enterprise application service provider that had a successful initial public offering in July of 2000.

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