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    Feature: Will The Linux Penguin End Up Flipping Microsoft the Bird?
    Posted by Terry Shannon, SKHPC, Thursday October 31 2002 @ 08:01AM EST

    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'


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