Developers may well be the next band of rogues to shake up corporate IT departments by demanding Linux.
Particularly when mixed with the Java programming language, Linux is emerging as a contender to win over the corporate developers as a stable platform for building serious applications that can run on multiple operating systems.
Although tools for Linux are few and programming talent requirements are high, some developers say its flexibility and open-source heritage make it a better development platform than Microsoft's Windows NT.
"Over the past three months, we've started moving more machines to Linux for development, as opposed to Windows NT. It's been an extremely positive experience," said Manu Kumar, CEO of SneakerLabs, a developer of Web conferencing and presentation applications in Pittsburgh.
Indeed, Linux is not so difficult to find in corporate settings these days: preliminary data shows that of the 4.7 million server licences sold in 1998, 17.2 per cent were Linux, compared with 36.8 per cent Windows NT, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).
"Linux is becoming more than hype. There are parallels with Java that way. Both have the concept of building an application and deploying it anywhere you choose to," said Dan Kuznetsky, an analyst at IDC.
Though many mainstream tools vendors are taking a "wait-and-see" approach to bringing out versions of their tools for Linux, the OS itself includes development utilities. Caldera Systems, for example, includes a Java development kit (JDK) with its Open Linux 2.2 release.
IBM, Symantec, and other tools vendors are also considering the platform. IBM has committed to creating a version of its WebSphere Studio for Linux.
"We are hearing calls for more Linux support. It seems to be catching on, especially as a development platform," said Kent Mitchell, senior product manager of Symantec's VisualCafe Java, in California.
Developers willing to learn Java and Linux can use $US1200 Intel PCs, install free or low-cost Linux, and use such open-source editors as Emax, along with Sun Microsystems' JDK 1.1, to build server applications.
A corporate systems architect said he is experimenting with Linux, but won't dump NT before he's sure about Linux.
"We are encouraged by what we see as industry adoption [of Linux]. We don't have plans to switch from NT but it is something I would consider," said Fred Kauber, director of Internet and e-commerce solutions at Reliance National Insurance, in New York.