Operating system gains widespread acceptance, but hurdles remain for critical non-web applications

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

January 16, 2003

3 Min Read

It's hard to quantify Linux's market penetration because many users download free versions over the Internet. Others turn to vendors such Red Hat and the UnitedLinux group (Connectiva, SCO Group, SuSE, and TurboLinux), which sell apps and services packaged around the Linux kernel. By buying Linux from a vendor, customers gain implementation and integration assistance and have someone to turn to if problems develop. Vendors also help business-technology managers navigate and work with the open-source development community.

One of Linux's greatest assets is the worldwide network of open-source programmers that keep developing features and capabilities. Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit company that certifies open-source software, estimates that 4 million to 27 million programmers are working on open-source software.

Another asset is growing support from hardware vendors, including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems. Worldwide shipments of Linux servers grew 47%, from 72,126 units in the third quarter of 2001 to 105,849 units in the third quarter of 2002, according to Gartner research. In contrast, Windows server shipments grew 7.2% during that same time period -- but that amounted to more than 1 million Windows servers.

"Assuming that people have more money to spend in 2003, we'll see Linux being adopted in enterprises to run mission-critical applications," says Bill Claybrook, an Aberdeen Group research director. One reason is Linux's status as the heir apparent to Unix. "If Windows and Linux are the same price and the company is using Unix, they're going to take a serious look at Linux rather than making changes to their IT environment to implement Windows," he says.

Linux vendors know they face a challenge convincing businesses to move their key applications off legacy platforms onto Linux. "These are systems that took a long time to implement, and moving them over doesn't happen in a flash," says Mark de Visser, a VP at Red Hat, which owns about half the Linux market.

But he's optimistic. "A year ago, it was about us pleading with independent software vendors to get on board with Linux," he says. "Today, it's more about what strategy they're using for Linux."

Laef Olson, chief technology officer of Classified Ventures LLC

Cars.com is test-driving a dashboard built on Linux, Olson says.

IBM and Oracle, two of the proponents for mainstreaming Linux, have big plans for it in 2003. IBM already offers Linux versions of its DB2, WebSphere, Lotus, and Tivoli software. The company has more than 4,600 customers worldwide in the automotive, government, and financial-services sectors running Web servers, supercomputing clusters, and genomic-research apps on Linux. IBM is the leading Linux vendor in revenue, generating more than $215 million in the third quarter of 2002, the most recent quarter for which Gartner has statistics. This was 83% more Linux revenue than IBM generated a year earlier.

Oracle last month made its Cluster File System available to Linux users to provide a way to make a shared disk available to all the nodes in a cluster, rather than installing Oracle software on each node. Oracle plans to submit the file-system code for inclusion in the mainstream Linux kernel.

Aberdeen's Claybrook says porting these apps to Linux is a key step toward more mainstream, mission-critical implementations. "There aren't a large number available today for CRM, SCM, or ERP, but they're coming," he says.

Cendant's Chugg agrees. "Linux is becoming more mainstream," he says. "A year ago, I wouldn't have given the same answer. But today I can't find a single reason not to use Linux at the hotel level."

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