Linux will exit this year in a much stronger position following recent announcements by two of the world's largest software vendors.
In early November, Microsoft announced a deal with Novell to support Suse Linux on machines that run Windows. It will also offer sales support for Suse software and co-develop with Novell to enable dual-boot Suse Linux and Microsoft Windows-based machines.
Also last month, Oracle used its Oracle World 2006 conference to announce Linux operating system support, which some industry watchers have predicted could be the prelude to a standalone Oracle Linux.
So what happened during 2006 to start changing opinions? Red Hat managing director, Max McLaren, said it came back to the customers. "From a reseller perspective, the interest in Linux is fuelled by customers asking questions of their channel partners," he said. "This has seen double-digit market expansion locally and worldwide."
CustomTech managing director, Gordon Hubbard, said Linux had now been around long enough to gain acceptance from SMBs through to the enterprise.
"Products in the Linux space are reaching a level of maturity and the market as a whole is becoming more comfortable with using them in critical areas," he said. "It's certainly a growing market."
Operations manager of local open source solutions company, Cybersource, Steven D'Aprano, said Linux continued to grow in popularity thanks to it flexible nature and reduced running costs in environments that didn't need to license more expensive operating systems.
"When you're running Windows, everybody from the data-entry pool to the graphic designer is running the same operating system - the same desktop - and it's not always needed," he said. "If it is, great, and companies can pay for it. But if not, they can start to look at the alternatives."
D'Aprano said Cybersource was increasingly able to sell solutions on its own merits rather than relying on the Linux name.
"There are Linux evangelists out there who will buy anything with a Linux badge on it, but for the rest we don't make a big deal about it. We don't try to ram the name down people's throats." Red Hat's McLaren said resellers stood to make solid profits through Linux and related services.
"We use a two-tier distribution model through itX and Ingram Micro. Resellers are getting a margin for the subscription fees - which are the equivalent to a proprietary license fee - in addition to any margin they make on services," he said.
The Linux vendor also pushes training and certification skills via its distributors for resellers and users.
Cybersource recently won a Linux deal for 120 systems and several image servers with the Victorian Department of Justice. As the desktops will be used by prisoners, the department had high-level security requirements. This extended to preventing users from making any changes to the system or its applications, in addition to no new software or drivers being installed and a ban on Internet access.
"Even if the prisoners did find some way to break through all the locks, as soon as the PC rebooted it was all gone," D'Aprano said. He said the image of the secure Linux desktop would only be pushed onto the PCs and never pushed back. "You just couldn't do this with Windows. There are some solutions that come part way to that functionality, but Windows still needs to be able to write to the registry for just about everything," he said. "The other thing that was apparently impossible under Windows was locking the USB port, but with the machines we built, even if a prisoner smuggles in a USB key, they can't get it to work."
CustomTech's Hubbard agreed thin client-style implementations of Linux, such as the Department of Justice rollout, were growing in popularity. "The thin client market is steadily gaining ground. It's a good market as people try and move away from expensive desktop configurations," he said. "Thin clients can be managed from a central location, don't require a lot of attention and last longer due to their design."
Despite the growth of Linux in recent years, D'Aprano said the operating system, and by association the resellers and integrators involved with it, had a long way to go. "The truth is, this is early days yet. We've had a lot of interest but there's a long way to go."