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Linux a recession winner, IDC finds

The operating system is gaining as the economy loses faith in expensive IT solutions. The research firm posts conclusions after surveying 300 IT executives.

Linux long ago became the "furniture" of open source: essential infrastructure to most of the Fortune 500 and somewhat mundane in its predictable, ever-increasing adoption.

Despite its impressive rise, however, Linux still has a long, long way to go. While results of an IDC survey published this week found that 55 percent of the 300 IT executives surveyed already had Linux systems in use, a full 97 percent were running Windows.

IDC: Linux adoption in a global recession

Linux, in other words, still has a long way to go to reach full adoption and, importantly, the vendors that sell it have even further to go to effectively monetize its popularity.

Novell, which commissioned the IDC survey, stands to benefit, as do Red Hat and Canonical (Ubuntu). Indeed, unless the vendors royally screw up, each should benefit handsomely, as the planned adoption of Linux is significant, as IDC found:

  • More than 72 percent of those surveyed are either actively evaluating or have already decided to increase their adoption of Linux on the server in 2009, with more than 68 percent making the same claim for the desktop;
  • More than 40 percent of respondents say they plan to deploy additional workloads on Linux over the next 12 to 24 months, and 49 percent indicated that Linux will be their primary server platform within five years;
  • Perhaps because of the desire to go "all Linux," only 22 percent of those surveyed identify "Interoperability" as a top-three consideration when choosing a server operating system. This could also help explain why Novell's partnership with Microsoft may be stalling, as ChannelWeb recently wrote.

    Interoperability is important, but it pales in importance when compared to performance and cost for most CIOs. When asked which factors would accelerate new deployments of Linux, only 24 percent cited greater interoperability with Windows;

  • Surprisingly, nearly 50 percent expect to accelerate adoption of Linux on the desktop, especially for basic office functions, technical workstation users, and higher education/K-12. Along with ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn, this is one that I'll believe when i see it;
  • Nearly 50 percent stated that virtualization is accelerating their adoption of Linux. Eighty-eight percent of recipients plan to evaluate, deploy, or increase their use of virtualization software within Linux operating systems over the next 12 to 24 months.

While much of this Linux adoption will come at the expense of incumbent Unix vendors, I would suspect that an increasing percentage will cut into Windows, particularly in the server market but also for specialized desktop applications, like in the retail sector (63 percent of respondents in retail are looking to accelerate their Linux adoption).

Regardless of the market, however, Linux stands to gain. But for Novell, Red Hat, and Canonical, I would argue that their biggest competitor, at least in the short term, isn't Microsoft or any of the Unix vendors. No, their biggest competitor is unpaid Linux adoption.

For Red Hat, CentOS is likely its biggest competitor. For Novell, after Red Hat, I would imagine that Ubuntu is its biggest hurdle to monetizing Linux adoption. And for Canonical/Ubuntu? It is its own biggest enemy, when it comes to turning downloads into dollars, because it does such an effective job of encouraging downloads.

Regardless, these are good problems to have in a recessed economy. I wouldn't want to be selling proprietary, expensive Unix right now. Microsoft Windows offers a compelling value proposition in a fiscally prudent environment, but for those chief information officers interested in performance, Linux is going to win more competitive bids against Windows than it loses.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.