The Free Standards Group:
A Brief Introduction

The Free Standards Group (FSG) is an independent, nonprofit organization that was established in 2000 for the purpose of promoting the use of free software by developing and promoting international standards for such software. The San Francisco, California-based organization also coordinates testing and certification programs that verify the compliance of software with existing standards.

Free software, also referred to as open source software, is software for which the source code is available to everyone at no monetary cost and to use for any purpose. Source code is the version of software as it is originally written (i.e., typed into a computer) by a human in plain text (i.e., human readable alphanumeric characters) in a programming language (e.g., C, C++ or Java).

Well designed and widely accepted standards can greatly reduce the time and effort that developers need to devote to verification and porting issues and thereby enable them to focus more on improving the quality and performance of their software. Porting is the modification of software so that it can run on another platform (i.e., operating system or processor).

All standards developed by the FSG are available at no cost and are distributed under open source licenses, currently the GNU Free Documentation License. This license is designed to make manuals, textbooks and other documents free in the sense that anybody is permitted to copy and redistribute them, either commercially or noncommercially, and with or without modifying them. It also makes it possible for authors and publishers to receive credit for their works while not being considered responsible for subsequent modifications made by others.

The FSG has several work groups. Probably best known is the Linux Standard Base (LSB) project, whose purpose is to develop and promote a set of interface standards designed to maximize the portability of application programs across Linux distributions (i.e., versions) and other open source platforms. The FSG emphasizes that a well supported standard is necessary in order to prevent Linux from fragmenting into a number of incompatible versions and thus for its continued success. UNIX underwent such a fragmentation, and was greatly weakened by it.

Conformance with the LSB is certified by The Open Group under contract with the FSG. The Open Group is an industry consortium sponsored by many of the largest IT (information technology) vendors and buyers (including IBM, Sun, HP, Hitachi and Fujitsu). It was founded in 1996 to form de facto standards in software engineering, and it is best known as the owner of the UNIX trademark and for its publication of the Single UNIX Specification.

Another FSG work group, the Open Internationalization Initiative (OpenI18N), has created an internationalization standard for developers of applications for Linux and other platforms. Internationalization is the adaptation of products for potential use in every country and region, including the addition of a framework for support for multiple languages and cultures.

The Linux Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (LANANA) is intended to be a a responsive, easy-to-use, central registry of names and numbers used by Linux for such things as block device and character device files (i.e., special files used to control peripheral devices). Such a registry can minimize namespace collisions (i.e., conflicts arising from identical names), thereby resulting in improved interoperability and more widely available drivers and applications for Linux. The role of the LANANA is analogous to that of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which oversees Internet names and addresses.

The goal of the OpenPrinting work group is to develop and promote a set of standards to address the needs of enterprise-ready printing for Linux, including management, reliability, security, scalability, printer feature access and network accessibility.

The Accessibility work group is attempting to make it easier for developers to support technologies that enable individuals with disabilities to read and write online text as well as participate in telephonic communications. A disability is a physical or mental impairment (i.e., a medically defined defect) that substantially limits, or is perceived by others to limit, a person's ability to perform one or more activities of everyday living, such as breathing, communicating, caring for oneself, learning, performing manual tasks, walking and working.

The goal of the Open Cluster Framework work group is to define a set of clustering interface standards. Clustering is the interconnection of a number of low-cost computers using special software and hardware so that they can emulate a single, larger and more expensive computer.

DWARF is a debugging file format used by many compilers and debuggers to support debugging (i.e., removing errors) of source code. A compiler is a specialized program to convert source code into object code or machine code, which is directly understandable by a computer's CPU (central processing unit). DWARF addresses the requirements of several widely used programming languages such as C, C++ and Fortran, and it is designed to be extensible to other languages. It is applicable to any processor or operating system, and it is widely used on Unix-like operating systems as well in stand-alone environments.

Corporate members of the FSG include leading developers and suppliers of both software and hardware, such as AMD, Conectiva, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, MandrakeSoft, Miracle Linux, MontaVista, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, SuSE Linux, Turbolinux and VA Software.

Not-for-profit members include Japan Linux Association, Linux International, Linux Professional Institute (LPI), The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), PC Open Architecture Developers' Group (OADG), Software in the Public Interest (SPI), Software Liberty Association of Taiwan (SLAT), The Open Group and USENIX Association. In addition, there are also individual memberships.

The FSG home page is

Created March 11, 2005.
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