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Linux gains traction in software market

Posted by egovindia on July 26, 2006

Linux gains traction in software market

IBM’s backing helps add more followers

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-0607240173jul24,1,1045976.story?coll=

chi-business-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

By Jon Van
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 24, 2006

When IBM introduced a version of Lotus Notes that runs on the desktop computers using the Linux operating system this month, it was a sign of confidence that open-source software is gaining market traction.

Lotus Notes, the popular collaboration and e-mail software, has operated on Windows machines for 16 years and Apple’s Mac computers for more than a decade, said Ed Brill, IBM’s Chicago-based Lotus strategy executive.

“A lot of enterprises, especially government and educational organizations, like the cost and flexibility of Linux,” he said. “This is geographically driven. Linux has taken off in Germany, India and China.”

Linux is what the industry calls open-source software. Led by Linus Torvalds when he was a computer-science graduate student at the University of Helsinki, Finland, a team of programmers from around the world developed the software that has its entire code open to programmers and developers, unlike proprietary software such as Windows. Users continue to maintain and upgrade Linux and allow it to be downloaded and used for free.

Most enterprises that use Linux prefer to pay for commercial versions provided by Red Hat, Novell or other firms. These versions are more user-friendly, but they still cost about one-tenth of what Microsoft charges for Windows, the world’s most pervasive computer operating system.

Rather than compete with Microsoft by offering its own proprietary operating system, IBM has opted to support open-source software. Linux is perhaps the best-known example.

Linux software has become a mainstream product for computer network servers, said Al Gillen, president for International Data Corp., a market research firm. But as a desktop computer operating system, it faces a huge challenge posed by the widespread embrace of Windows.

“There are some very good Linux operating systems out there,” Gillen said. “You keep hearing that desktop Linux is the next big thing. But we’ve been hearing that for about five years now.

“Customers are looking at Linux and piloting it, but you don’t see many big deployments.”

IBM’s Brill said he sees open source software making inroads among the very largest enterprise customers and the smallest, “but it’s not doing much yet in the middle.”

Except for computer hobbyists, Linux has no presence in the consumer market. Justin Steinman, Linux product marketing director for Novell, said that even though his company’s latest Linux operating platform is aimed squarely at the enterprise customer, it contains many consumer-friendly features.

“Users want to know if it will play DVDs and CDs and whether they can use it to look at pictures of their kids,” said Steinman. “When you load this onto a laptop that someone carries with him, you have to do those things. Even though it’s intended for business, you’re not going to just do that for the six hours it takes to fly from Boston to L.A.”

No one expects Linux to make a big dent in Microsoft’s dominance in desktop operating systems, but trends that suggest Linux will enjoy “a gentle adoption curve,” said Patrick Kerpan, a founder of the Chicago software start-up CohesiveFT.

About one-third of today’s workforce has been using computers since childhood, Kerpan noted, and they are more comfortable moving from one computer interface to another than older workers may be.

“They use cell phones, iPods, X-Boxes and on and on,” he said. “Each machine has a different interface, and they don’t care. They just tear into them.”

Another trend working to Linux’s advantage, Kerpan said, is the spread of virtual computing. This allows a computer running software from Microsoft, Apple or any other operating system to create a window that thinks it’s something different.

Thus a machine running on Windows could at the same time have a part of it that runs Linux.

“In the past, switching to Linux was an all-or-nothing decision,” said Kerpan. “But now it’s possible to experiment with a new system without really changing your hard drive or making a big commitment.”

Even if there’s no stampede among businesses to embrace desktop Linux, there is a lot of interest in it, said Fred Hock, president of the Illinois Information Technology Association.

“There’s growing interest in it,” said Hock. “People like the stability, security and simplicity of Linux.”

IDC’s Gillen said there’s another reason for business people to look at Linux as a Microsoft alternative. “Microsoft can be very aggressive about keeping its customers,” he said. “If Microsoft thinks you’re serious about jumping to Linux, they may start offering some really deep discounts to keep you.”

———-

jvan@tribune.com

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