AHEAD OF THE CURVE" Linux has a fight ahead

AHEAD OF THE CURVE" Linux has a fight ahead

Analysts tell us that Unix is setting, Linux is rising and Windows will always be the reason microcomputers exist. The market share Unix loses will get snapped up by Linux such that by the end of the decade, a third or more of all servers will be running Linux. My job would be so much easier if I could create five-year projections with a search-and-replace that changes all instances of "U" to "Li".

This business about Linux effortlessly coasting to a silver medal is crap. It is based on the presumption that Linux is running for that position unopposed; if Linux avoids getting creamed by Windows, victory is assured. Is it possible that by 2009 IT may find itself with something it likes better? Do analysts really believe that IT is that predictable when it comes to mission-critical technology? If there's any area where it's worth doing homework, it's OSes. IT knows that.

With Sun's recent delivery of Open Solaris, Unix, which Linux was created to counter, has surpassed Linux. Solaris 10 and Mac OS X Server 10.4 (Tiger, whose open source counterpart is Darwin 8, based on BSD Unix) were born as mission-critical, scalable, secure, stable, and portable OSes.

Linux grew into those roles, but while Linux was firming its foundation, Sun, Apple, and, before Apple, NeXT were building on OSes that were already proven bullet-proof.

Now that Solaris and Darwin are open source, they share Linux's endearing traits and have the benefit of being developed and supported in-house by the fourth- and fifth-largest makers of computer systems (ranked by sales: IBM, HP, Dell, Sun, and Apple).

Ironically, commercial Linux server software is now encumbered, and two multibillion-dollar companies are offering thoroughly validated alternatives that are free for do-it-yourselfers, are quite affordable for others and enjoy broad community support in their free and commercial forms.

Solaris is a ubiquitous target for open source projects and is 100 per cent source-code compatible with Solaris 10 for Sparc. Solaris 10 has plenty of commercial server application support.

OS X Server 10.4/Darwin 8 has considerable catching up to do in that department, but OS X Server destroys all Unix and Unix-like OSes as a turnkey package.

If I seem to be blending the open and commercial editions of Solaris and OS X/Darwin too freely, I admit I see them as I see Linux. From IT's point of view, OS freeware is a try-and-buy edition of the supported commercial software IT trusts. Open Solaris is a lure for Solaris 10, just as Darwin is a lure for OS X. Freeware Linux is the gateway to Red Hat and Novell/Suse. Freeware always attracts developers. Linux didn't start life that way, but it's in that position now.

System V and BSD Unix started life decades ago with charters that made AT&T and the University of California at Berkeley answerable to some tough customers. Linux eclipsed closed Unix by virtue of its openness.

But now Linux's appeal is diluted by the opening up and broad availability of enterprise Unix from Sun and Apple.

So the formula has changed: Closed Unix will lose market share, but Linux will not take over those numbers and dollars by default. It'll have to fight for them, and Sun and Apple are well-positioned to make IT consider open Unix alongside Linux as it phases out its proprietary solutions.

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