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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Linux : River Started Off A Bouncy Small Stream And Turned Into A Slower-Moving Big Thing

Businessweek in a very insightful article writes, "Little understood by the outside world, the community of Linux programmers has evolved in recent years into something much more mature, organized, and efficient". Excerpts with edits:
Linux has turned pro. Tech giants such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard , and Intel are clustered around Linux , contributing technology, marketing muscle, and thousands of professional programmers. IBM alone has 600 programmers dedicated to Linux, up from two in 1999. There's even a board of directors that helps set the priorities for Linux development.The result is a much more powerful Linux. The software is making its way into everything from Motorola cellphones and Mitsubishi robots to eBay servers and the NASA supercomputers that run space-shuttle simulations. Its growing might is shaking up the technology industry, challenging Microsoft Corp.'s dominance and offering up a new model for creating software. Indeed, Torvalds' onetime hobby has become Linux Inc.

For Linux Inc., there's no headquarters, no CEO, and no annual report. And it's not a single company. Rather, it's a cooperative venture in which employees at about two dozen companies, along with thousands of individuals, work together to improve Linux software. The tech companies contribute sweat equity to the project, largely by paying programmers' salaries, and then make money by selling products and services around the Linux operating system. They don't charge for Linux itself, since under the cooperative's rules the software is available to all comers for free. Distributors, including Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc, package Linux with helpful user manuals, regular updates, and customer service, and then charge customers annual subscription fees for all the extras.IBM, HP, and others capitalize on the ability to sell machines without any up-front charge for an operating-system license, which can range up to several thousand dollars for some versions of Windows and Unix. At HP, sales of servers that run the Linux operating system hit nearly $3 billion during the past fiscal year, almost double the tally three years ago.

Put it all together, and Linux has become the strongest rival that Microsoft has ever faced. In servers, researcher IDC predicts Linux' market share based on unit sales will rise from 24% today to 33% in 2007, compared with 59% for Windows Forrester Research Inc. 52% said they are now replacing Windows servers with Linux. On the desktop side, IDC sees Linux' share more than doubling, from 3% today to 6% in 2007, while Windows loses a bit of ground. IDC expects the total market for Linux devices and software to jump from $11 billion last year to $35.7 billion by 2008.Ofcourse,Microsoft says for the record, "Linux shall go the unix way".

The industry collaborations are turning Linux into an all-purpose operating system. It's secure enough that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory loads it not only on desktop and server computers but also on supercomputers it uses to simulate the aging of nuclear materials. "Linux is definitely more secure than Windows," says Mark Seager, the lab's assistant department head for advanced technology. "There aren't as many ways to break the system." With the latest improvements, Linux now works on servers with more than 128 processors and can run the largest databases. The newest versions also have features, such as power management, that make them more suitable for laptop PCs.
Cost isn't the only reason that companies are switching to Linux. Linux] has an innate guarantee that you won't be held hostage," says an user.Indeed, Linux Inc. has emerged as a model for collaborating in a new way on software development, which could have reverberations throughout the business world. Its essence is captured in one of the mottoes of the open-source world: Give a little, take a lot. In a business environment where efficiency rules, that's a potent formula - maybe even strong enough to knock mighty Microsoft down a peg.

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