More than 18 months in the making, the newest Linux kernel, Version 2.2, will arrive in December with a slew of technical enhancements that may push the operating system further into the enterprise.
By offering significant Web server performance boosts on Intel multiprocessor boxes, serving many more concurrent database users, and providing better multiple-disk RAID support, Linux 2.2 - and subsequently, Red Hat 5.2 and Caldera Linux - directly target ISPs and enterprises.
For its part, Intel will reveal its plans for Intel-based hardware standards for Linux at the Intel Developer Forum in February.
"It's faster, cheaper, better, and more stable at this point," said Sam Ockman, president of Penguin Computing, a Linux reseller in San Francisco. "We're very excited about it, especially on the quad systems."
The latest open-source kernel arrives as Netscape, Oracle, Intel, IBM, and Compaq are working to give Linux enough momentum and credibility to enter the enterprise.
Netscape, for example, is porting its messaging and directory servers and applications to Linux.
"What [Version 2.2] means is it increases the range of customers that a Linux server can accommodate. You can do on one piece of hardware what it took two or three boxes to do before, so it cuts costs and reduces chances of failure," said Kevin Tsurutome, group product manager for directory applications and tools at Netscape Communications.
Compaq president and CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer recently said: "Any breakthrough that would unify Unixes - or kind of an overarching specification - we would certainly support."
Like the major vendors, users are divided on the validity of Linux, an open-source Unix OS for clients and servers.
Still, the features in the latest release may offer incentives to at least try it, technical administrators said.
"A lot of us are getting tired of the poor quality of Microsoft's software. After NT Service Pack 4 did a number on several of our machines, I got permission from my boss to give Linux a try," said John Wendel, a computer specialist at the US Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorologic and Oceanographic Center, in California.
"I'm going to convert my whole operation to Linux if things work out," said Wendel, who uses Cray supercomputers, Sun servers, and Windows NT clients to provide weather forecasting to the Navy.
But many ISVs still do not find Linux on the radar screens of their enterprise customers. Jared Rodriguez, chief technology officer at Trade'ex, a trading and electronic-commerce site vendor in Florida, said no one asks for it.
"We kind of swing to the demands of the Fortune 500 and stick to the operating systems they demand. I haven't even evaluated Linux," Rodriguez said.
For others, however, the writing is on the wall: Linux is growing fast.
"The other day as I was driving to the train station to get into New York, there was a car in front of me with a Linux bumper sticker," recalled David Leveen, one of the owners of Cognitive Communications, in New York. "I said to myself 'This is a sign.' I've never seen a technology bumper sticker before. Never."