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Compaq: Big business still leery of Linux

It has technical strength and industry momentum, but several obstacles remain before the Unix clone will penetrate the deepest parts of corporate computing.

SAN FRANCISCO--Linux has technical strength and industry momentum, but several obstacles remain before the Unix clone will penetrate the deepest parts of corporate computing, Compaq Computer Chief Technology Officer Shane Robison said Tuesday.

"The No. 1 reason corporations are hesitant to deploy Linux in the enterprise surrounds the very nature of the open-source model," Robison said at the opening keynote address at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

Specifically, corporations worry about the large number of companies and individuals responsible for various Linux components, he said. "Linux lacks a one-stop point of contact."

Aggravating the situation is the lack of standards for Linux. Though some efforts such as the Linux Standard Base are finally gaining traction, for the most part Linux software has many differences, often minor but still significant for hardware and software companies trying to support Linux, Robison said.

"Linux's success has placed an enormous burden" on computer and software companies that must "support minor deviations," he said.

Overall, though, Robison praised the operating system for attracting enormous developer interest, enabling creative research projects at Compaq and elsewhere, and being a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy technology industry.

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 Challenge of taking Linux mainstream
Shane Robison, CTO, Compaq

"You should be proud of the technological progress, but more important, (of) the momentum" Linux has achieved, Robison told conference attendees.

About 20,000 to 25,000 people are at the Linux show, which moved to San Francisco's Moscone Center this year after outgrowing its previous digs in San Jose.

Linux may be growing, but the picture isn't entirely cheery. In addition to improvements to Microsoft's Windows operating system, most Linux companies have been laying off employees and LinuxWorld Expo organizers couldn't persuade companies to sponsor an official party, one source said.

The most vocal backing for Linux these days comes from IBM, which today announced that Securities Industry Automation's tracking of "buy" and "sell" orders on the New York and American stock exchanges now is running on Linux on an IBM mainframe.

Merrill Lynch analyst Tom Kraemer said in a research note Tuesday that IBM's strategy is to use Linux to make server profits come not from operating systems, but from hardware, services and the "middleware" software such as databases that are the foundation for other programs.

"We believe that IBM hopes to capture developers, commoditize the server operating system, challenge Sun and Microsoft, and shift server margins from the operating system to semiconductors, middleware and services," Kraemer said. The process will take several years, and "Linux is still immature," he said.

Compaq's Robison also said Linux has areas where it needs to grow up.

It needs to work better on multiprocessor servers, he said. The current. 2.4 kernel--the core of Linux--works well only on four-processor and eight-processor systems, he said.

Addressing security is another hurdle for Linux. "The reality is that the developer effort is too distributed to make clear guarantees about security," he said.