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Linux losing to Windows

Linux's server growth is slowing vis-a-vis Windows server growth. The reasons are several, and the answer is clear: take on Microsoft directly.

A few years ago market share data clearly demonstrated Linux server growth outpacing Windows server growth. Today, Linux server growth has apparently slowed while Windows is picking up, according to IDC. Why? The rate of migration from Unix to Linux has slowed.

In other words, Linux may have hit the end of Unix's low-hanging fruit (which also might mean that Sun's OpenSolaris has picked up...?).

Linux growth in the U.S. x86 server market has, over the past six quarters, started to falter and reverse its positive course relative to Windows Server and the market as a whole.

The annual rate at which Linux is growing in the x86 server space has fallen from around 53 percent in 2003 (45 percent globally), when Windows Server growth was in the mid-20 percent range, to a negative 4 percent growth (less than 10 percent globally) in calendar year 2006, IDC Quarterly Server Tracker figures show.

Over the same time period, Windows has continued to report positive annual growth, outpacing the total growth rate in the x86 market by more than 4 percent in 2006, indicating that Linux has actually lost market share to Windows Server over this time.

Bill Hilf of Microsoft suggests that this stems, in part, from Linux being considered in two primary scenarios: high-performance computing and Web serving. Windows is apparently adopted on a much broader basis.

Is this a long-term trend or are we at a crossroads? With big ERP/database/CRM/etc. vendors moving or moved to Linux (Oracle, for example), I suspect we'll see Linux taking a broader position in the applications currently served (no pun intended) by Microsoft's Windows.

What this means is that it may be the end of Novell, Red Hat, and Ubuntu sidestepping Microsoft to focus on the low-hanging fruit. Novell has actually competed directly against Microsoft for several years, which is why it felt the Sharepoint threat earlier. (My last job at Novell was to analyze how to reverse Microsoft's efforts to push Linux out of enterprises using Sharepoint.) Red Hat still has not felt it because it has not competed as directly with Microsoft's application-serving markets.

To grow, Linux is going to have to take on Redmond. Directly. Soon. To win, it may have to present a similar story to Microsoft's: end-to-end value. This may not be something the Linux vendors can fully do today, though arguably Novell has (some of) the right pieces, if not the execution to back them.

The Linux versus Windows fight just got more interesting.