SAN FRANCISCO--Is the freely distributed Linux operating system ready to handle the needs of corporations?
Oracle thinks so. The software giant is moving forward with plans to port its Oracle8 database to the Unix-like OS. Informix Software thinks so too, having launched a similar effort with its own database software.
Evidently, so does Dell Computer, which has reportedly offered Linux for about a year, including the software among the list of options that users can choose when ordering a custom-configured PC. Even Intel, one half of the vaunted "Wintel" duopoly, is on board.
But the question remains a hot topic as Linux continues to grow as an alternative to commercially developed software, particularly those products championed by Microsoft. It was the subject of a loose discussion at the Comdex Enterprise trade show here yesterday, with opinions being offered from all corners of the industry: money-making operations like Oracle, corporate users, and members of the Linux community to boot.
Linux was initially released in 1991 when creator Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki. It has since grown into a Net-based software phenomenon, with millions of users counted as converts and countless software additions submitted to various ad hoc Linux Web sites for use.
Yet its popularity has been underwhelming, at least to corporate information technology execs. How else to explain the Linux integration strategy of Brian Hughes, a former vice president and architect for information systems at Wells Fargo, a financial institution known to use any technological advantage at its disposal.
Hughes built a data warehouse at the banking giant using a high-end system and accompanying Solaris software from Sun Microsystems. But he sprinkled a healthy dose of Linux-based systems around the periphery.
"How did we accomplish it? We didn't tell anybody about it until it was done," Hughes told a sparsely filled hall.
That may soon change, as executives from Oracle, Intel, and Informix made it clear that they are ready to commit to Linux. Pari Bhaduri, director of Oracle's Intel technology division, said his company "could no longer resist the clarion call of the community."
"We believe Linux is ready for the enterprise," he said.
John Downey, Linux product manager for Informix, said the Linux community "can do an end-run around anyone" if it hones a message that highlights cost of ownership, ease of use, and return on investment, among other buzzwords.
Another user, Informix database administrator Tim Schaefer, said the commitment of companies such as Informix and Oracle is the biggest thing to happen to Linux this year-evidence that money-making software providers that cater to corporate accounts are ready to take Linux seriously. "One of the best kept secrets in computing is Linux," he said.
For some profit-driven companies, it all comes down to opportunity. "I think the numbers [of Linux users] speak," said Sunil Saxena, a principal engineer at Intel. The executive promised more news would soon be forthcoming from the chip giant with regard to Linux support.
Some Linux distributors noted that a common standard base of code for the operating system would aid the effort to get Linux noticed by business users. Most applauded the efforts of the Linux Standard Base, an effort to agree on certain common Linux components. "I think it's something we need to worry a little more about," said Larry Augustin, president of VA Research.
Other standards efforts have also sprouted up in recent months.
"Standards are really important for this to move forward-to keep this consistency," Saxena said.
But if Linux continues its growth path without fracturing like the various flavors of Unix that are currently offered, most believe there is a large opportunity for "the freely distributed software that could"--especially with business applications, like those from Oracle and Informix, now coming into play.
"I think its going to be a free-for-all," said Schaeffer. "This is when the math really starts to make sense."