It was more than half a decade ago that Bill Gates took time out of his
busy schedule to helicopter into Sophia Antipolis, DEC's research center
near Valbonne, France, and the new home of the DEC-Microsoft Joint
European Briefing Center (obviously, The Assimilation was well
underway). After the obligatory content-free speech, Gates took a few
questions from the audience. One of the first was from SKHPC, who, in a
rare moment of political correctness, asked His Gatesness what impact he
felt Linux would have on commercial desktop UNIX OSes (specifically not
on Microsoft desktops).
It is with great pleasure that I can report that I was the only analyst
in the audience capable of flummoxing Mister Gates: given his rambling.
incoherent answer to my simple question, it was intuitively obvious that the guy couldn't even SPELL Linux, much less figure out what it
was. Looks like he missed the boat, and given Microsoft's experience
with the Internet and the long-awaited yet ill-defined .NET, the good
ship Linux isn't the only vessel that set sail before Gates embarked.
A Counterattack by Feathered Friends
After years of watching Microsoft aggrandize and attempt to consolidate
its power and annuity revenue stream, a band of software rivals is
trying to build a new beachhead in desktop computers, one that may put
the kibosh on Gates' "all your applications are belong to me" game plan.
The chief weapon in this initiative is of course the Linux OS, which
already has made significant inroads in the server marketplace but has
yet to dominate many desktops. But an unholy combination of technology
improvements, economic pressures and a greed-generated change in
Microsoft's pricing is increasing the appeal of Linux-based PCs in some
business settings. And it looks like the momentum will continue.
In the biggest pro-Linux development to date, Microsoft archrival Sun
Microsystems swallowed its pride and announced its first full-fledged
commitment to Linux on desktop PCs. Desktop PCs running Intel processors
at that. Sun, whose server business has been severely impacted by
low-end systems running Microsoft Windows, is determined to
counterattack by removing some of the adipose tissue in Microsoft's
cash-cow franchise in desktop PC software, which has long been
aided and abetted by sweetheart deals with Compaq, Dell. HP, et al.
Here Comes The Sun
But Sun isn't going it alone. Not by a long shot. Linux purveyor
specialists Red Hat Inc., SuSE Linux AG, Ximian Inc., Lindows.com, and
others are backing the push. Big marquee accounts are few and far
between, but small and large businesses alike are beginning to catch the
Linux wave by deploying Linux-based PCs. A survey of 1,500 corporate
computer managers this spring by a Boston-based technology research firm
found that nearly 40 percent were considering dropping Microsoft in the
wake of a controversial change in the company's increasingly greedy
licensing policies, with Linux mentioned most often as a replacement
possibility. The odds are pretty good that a new baby isn't the only
thing that's keeping Bill Gates up at night these days, and that he's
reaching for the bottle of Ambien quite often!
An Evolutionary Migration
Even the most died-in-the-wool Linux bigots don't expect many office
workers who are accustomed to Windows applications to shift eagerly. Not
being stupid or suicidal, Microsoft doesn't make a version of its Office
programs to run on Linux PCs. That's a challenge to corporate IT
managers, but by no means an insurmountable challenge. After all, PCs
running Linux seem to suit some business settings already. Zumiez Inc.,
a retailer of skateboard-related clothing and accessories, is equipping
~100 stores with PCs running Linux, plus add-on software from Ximian and
others. The Everett, WA, retailer estimates that installing Microsoft
Windows and Office on each machine would have cost $500 more per store.
And Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery Inc. in Westport, MA, adopted
Red Hat's Linux on servers because of reliability problems with Windows,
and now plans to shift its dozen desktop PCs to Linux. The firm expects
to pay about $120 for software for each PC, compared with $650 for a
Windows PC. $60K may be chump change, but once the $60K becomes $600K,
Microsoft bean counters are bound to notice.
Several developments have made Linux more attractive. Some ISVs have
created business programs that can be used with only a Web browser,
reducing the need for Windows-based programs. Sun this spring began
selling a more-sophisticated version of StarOffice, a set of Linux
programs that include word processing, spreadsheet and PowerPoint-like
presentation functions and is now largely compatible with Microsoft
Office. And of course, Linux is "free," Its underlying source code can
be freely modified by users to fix bugs and improve reliability, an
option Microsoft proscribes. Plus, Linux can be downloaded free over the
Internet. Red Hat and SuSE and others bundle inexpensive Linux
distributions with other programs and services, the goal being to make
money from services.
Catching the Wave
Is Linux catching on? You bet! IDC figures that unit sales of desktop versions of Linux grew ~50 percent last year. That still leaves Linux with just 2.7 percent of desktop OS shipments, while 94 percent of those 110M shipments came from Microsoft. But the loss of even 2.7 percent of the market, coupled with major Linux deals with IBM and HP, are developments that ought to give Team Redmond plenty of cause for concern.
(c) 2002 by Terry C. Shannon, SKHPC
Editor of Shannon knows High Performance Computing
terryshannon at attbi.com
Other article by Terry Shannon:
hp Supercomputer Benchmark Performance 'Unparalleled'