Linux in 2004

Last year was an eventful one for Linux — the 2.6 kernel was released, Novell Inc. announced acquisition of SuSE AG, Red Hat stopped supporting its free distribution in favour of its Enterprise distribution, and instead kickstarted the Fedora Project, and the SCO Group Inc. claimed intellectual property rights over Linux.

While it is not yet known exactly what 2004 will bring, there are some things people can expect to see happen in 2004. Users can expect to see are a steady increase in the deployment of the Linux operating system in favour of low-level Unix systems, said Dan Kuznetsky, vice-president of system software at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

While Linux still isn’t a mainstream choice, IDC released a report in October projecting that Linux will become mainstream by 2005, something the research firm has been predicting since 1997, Kuznetsky said.

Linux users can also expect a new player in the market. While Red Hat Inc. and SuSE currently own the enterprise Linux market in the English-speaking world, the language barrier is not holding back China’s Red Flag Linux Software Co. Ltd. from making inroads here. Even though IT folks will have to wait a little longer than initially projected — it was supposed to be released by end of year 2003 –to get their hands on the company’s English distribution, the company projects it will be on the market by Q3 2004.

As for Novell Inc., the company finalized its purchase of SuSE on January 13th, and plans to focus its efforts on offering enterprise Linux services and further integrating Ximian RedCarpet and Novell ZenWorks, said Ross Chevalier, director of technology and solutions architecture at Novell Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont.

In addition, Linux users can also expect to see more of the Linux 2.6 kernel, released late last year. SuSE will release a version of it enterprise-level distribution by Q3 of 2004, and intends to distribute a beta version in June, according to Holger Dryoff. He predicts the additional performance and security features in the 2.6 kernel will give Linux greater traction in the data centre.

Paul Cormier, executive vice-president of engineering at Red Hat in Westford, Mass. said it’s a common misconception that the 2.6 kernel is released en masse. While the company expects its Enterprise distribution to have a fully incorporated 2.6 kernel in about a year, Red Hat has already taken some functionality from the 2.6 kernel and backported it into the 2.4 kernel in their distributions, and Red Hat’s free distribution, Fedora, will be fully 2.6-enabled in a matter of months.

Cormier also echoed SuSE’s belief that Linux is heading to the data centre. Red Hat in December announced it was going to buy storage company Sistina Software Inc., based in Minneapolis. He said Red Hat plans to take Sistina’s products and make the code available to the open source community to take advantage of community input to the development process.

However, despite this, Microsoft Corp. is not under threat of losing significant Windows market share to Linux, IDC’s Kuznetsky said.

“I think at this point the competition isn’t between Linux and Windows,” he said. “Linux is cannibalizing the low-end of the Unix and (Novell) NetWare market.”

IDC released its 2004 predictions in December indicating that Microsoft won’t lose market share to Linux until 2007, and until then, Microsoft doesn’t have to worry about putting out a Linux version of Windows. In 2003 Windows had 34 per cent market share in the operating systems market compared to Linux with 11 per cent. The research firm predicts Windows market share will increase to 36 per cent by 2007.

Regardless, earlier this month Microsoft launched an advertising campaign against the open source operating system called “Get the Facts”, which compares and contrasts the total cost of ownership (TCO) over five years between Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Linux. Microsoft contends that Windows 2000 is less expensive The data used in the advertisements comes from a study conducted by IDC for Microsoft.

SuSE sees Redmond’s ad campaign as validation of Linux’s promise. “The best way to describe Microsoft’s behaviour is that famous quote from Gandhi: ‘First they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win,'” he said.

One place Microsoft will continue to win-out on is in the desktop, Kuznetsky said, because Linux lacks the functionality of Windows and a comparable partner software community. Thus, Linux has very little potential in attracting consumers and knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are defined as users who are computer-savvy and whose work generally involves gathering information and reports.

“Quite often these people are tied to Microsoft Office and have at least a decade’s worth of process and programs [in place],” he explained.

However, he said desktop Linux would be appropriate for developers because it is less expensive and easier to tune. With Windows, the developer would have to systematically uninstall the components they did not want to use, whereas with Linux, the developer could simply install the necessary components, Kuznetsky explained.

He also said Linux desktops would be appropriate for transactional workers — those employees who simply use computers because their organization requires it of them to do simply information retrieval or transactional functions.

As for other places where Linux can be expected to been more frequently, IDC’s Kuznetsky said Linux has tremendous potential in the handheld and cellphone area because makers of these items want stable platforms with development tools that they don’t need pay a royalty for. Kuznetsky said users don’t care what operating system their handhelds run on, only that they get the functionality they need.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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