[Update (2007 Jan 25, 20:35): Stephen O'Grady and I are generally complementary in our thinking, but more aligned. Here's his excellent analysis. I think I'm showing my age.]
Monday saw the announcement of the creation of the Linux Foundation by merging the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) with the Free Standards Group (FSG). Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the FSG is now executive director of the entire organization. The news link is here. The interesting thing here is that we are watching history repeat itself in this technology generation.
In 1984, the BISON group (Bull, ICL, Siemens, Olivetti, Nixdorf) evolved into X/Open. It's purpose was to be a specification and certification organization supporting applications portability around the European UNIX system vendors. Over time the X/Open Portability Guide (XPG) was born, aligned with the ISO/IEEE POSIX standards, and evolved into the Single UNIX Specification and the UNIX branding program in 1995.
[The IEEE POSIX work started in 1985, delivered the first standard for applications portability in 1988, and then began forwarding work into ISO for subsequent standardization in 1990 and 1992, and onwards. Remember the UNIX standardization efforts, lovingly referred to as the "UNIX Wars" were about standardizing the mini-computer away from DEC.]
In 1988, Sun and AT&T began discussions as the Archer Group about an aligned UNIX offering. (The Archer Group became UNIX International.) This provoked DEC, IBM, DG, Siemens, Apollo, Nixdorf and HP to form the Open Systems Foundation (OSF). They quickly adopted their own specification for applications portability on UNIX, which also immediately aligned with the POSIX standards. [I'm sure rumours that "OSF" stood for "Oppose Sun Forever" weren't true.]
The more interesting aspect of the OSF, however, was their desire to deliver a shared operating system, and OSF/1 was launched. DEC later used OSF/1 as the core of a future release of Ultrix, and IBM having contributed technology from AIX to help build OSF/1 also back ported parts of the technology into AIX.
All of the OSF vendors differentiated the platform offerings on things other than the operating system. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to collaborate and share the engineering costs of the kernel development.
Eventually UNIX International collapsed, and even Sun joined the OSF. There was substantial overlap in the membership of the two organizations over time, and some members started acquiring other members.
So we had two organizations with substantially the same vendor members spending big sponsorship dollars to each organization each year. One was a specification and branding (certification) organization, and the other was developing a shared operating system kernel. Each organization was a not-for-profit.
In 1996, the two organizations were re-organized and thrust together to form the Open Group (TOG). DEC had collapsed by then -- UNIX had won. It was a more efficient way at that time to manage the costs of complementary programs.
Each organization was formed for a very specific market purpose. Over time, the purposes broadened, but eventually the sponsoring members of each came to re-focus the organizations on the core expertise and value proposition they had each started. Once the market need changed, they were streamlined further into one organization by their respective overlapping members.
Eventually OSF/1 faded away. Hardware architectures were evolving and the costs were commoditizing. PC-based hardware was going "up market" into the server space. This meant Microsoft was evolving their desktop juggernaut into NT and into the server world.
Linux was maturing to the point where there really could be a single royalty free kernel. Every vendor had one, so to speak. The Linux Standards Base (LSB) was formed in 1999 as a grass roots effort to support -- wait for it -- applications binary portability. It too centered on the mature standards work that is still maintained as the ISO/IEEE/TOG Single UNIX Specification (with the original ISO POSIX work at its core). It evolved into the Free Standards Group, with the classic list of vendors sponsoring it, and the certification and branding programs have developed. During this period the OSDL was created as a hub for the kernel development by the [substantially] same list of vendors.
I have long teased friends at the OSDL that they are the OSF of this technology generation. (For the most part, the vendor list hasn't changed all that much at the core.) And with this week's news we've come full circle. There is nothing particularly sinister in the overlap histories. It's just how maturing technology markets evolve and standardize.
Jim Zemlin will certainly have his work cut out for him, just as Allen Brown did when he moved from managing director of X/Open to COO of TOG. The specification and branding side of the house is never sexy, but it's incredibly important. The linux kernel development housed at the OSDL is much better evolved in this technology generation than the OSF/1 experiment or the unwieldy tree of UNIX distros. The organizational missions align nicely.
Congratulations, Mr. Zemlin!