A panel of ardent Microsoft rivals at last week's GartnerGroup's NT in the Enterprise conference blasted the software giant's "Windows everywhere" approach to computing today, but soon the crowd forgot about Redmond and focused on Red Hat Software.
The Linux vendor's folksy CEO, Bob Young, stole the show from Sun Microsystems and Novell marketing officials during the "Challenges to NT Domination" forum at the conference.
Sporting red socks, a red tie with penguins and, yes, a red hat, Young told conference-goers and Gartner analysts that Linux eventually will make a place for itself in the enterprise because of the very thing that makes many sceptical - its open-source model.
"For the first time you are getting an operating system over which you have control," said Young, comparing the proprietary Windows OS to "a car with its hood welded shut".
While Young talked about the future, Sun's Jeff Bernard, director of marketing for Solaris, talked about the past - when Sun was putting features into the Unix product that Microsoft - which hopes to release Windows 2000 later this year - is only now getting around to offering.
Those features include year 2000 compliance, 128-bit architectures, and overall performance and reliability, said Bernard, who boasted that 80 per cent of Internet traffic runs across Solaris servers.
"Solaris is the New York Yankees," Bernard said. "NT is the Taiwan little leaguers. Solaris is Niagra Falls; NT is a spring mist."
Novell's marketing director, Michael Simpson, said Novell will continue to grow because of its focus on directory services, and said Novell Directory Services will continue to outperform Microsoft's offering, even when the much-anticipated Active Directory comes out in Windows 2000.
"Their goal is to own as much end-to-end as possible, wherever data goes," Simpson said of Microsoft.
Young did not shy away from labelling Microsoft a monopoly, drawing an analogy with the railroads at the turn of the century. The railroads finally lost their grip on trade when the nation's highways were built, he said, and truckers could deliver goods door-to-door rather than point-to-point -- in high-tech talk, a value-add the rails could not offer.
"The only way to compete with a monopoly is to change the rules," Young said.
Young also disputed the notion that Linux is a geeks-only OS that holds little attraction for corporate decision-makers. He noted that in recent months Linux has scored deals with the likes of Compaq, Dell, and other industry heavyweights.
Although an IT manager may not trust "little Red Hat", Young said, "you certainly will be willing to trust Dell".
Bernard was asked whether Sun's highly public anti-Microsoft stance has turned off potential customers who have mixed environments and want Solaris, NT, and other systems. Bernard said Sun's products are superior, but acknowledged that much of Sun's anti-Microsoft timbre comes from its vocal CEO, Scott McNealy.
"We try to get the hook on the guy," Bernard said, laughing. "What are you going to do?"