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Linux fervor on display at trade show

From IBM to HP to Sun and beyond, companies head to LinuxWorld looking for an edge over competitors in the open-source world.

The growing normalcy of Linux in the corporate computing realm will be on display this week at a show devoted to the open-source operating system.

Linus Torvalds launched Linux as a student project nearly 13 years ago, and by the late 1990s the software had attracted support from the computing industry. Now Linux is a staple of the information technology diet and a component of computing company strategies to get an edge over their competitors.

At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, some of those strategies will be on display. Among server sellers, IBM will tout its efforts to build a new ecosystem of programmers and software packages on its Power processors. Hewlett-Packard will boast of its efforts to use Linux to woo customers from rival Sun Microsystems. And Sun will use Linux to showcase its new software and storage directions.

Among software companies, No. 2 Linux seller Novell will launch its version 9 of its flagship product, while No. 1 Red Hat will highlight its expansion into Java server software. And Veritas will show off an upgrade that raises its Linux storage software to the same level as its Unix products.

A mainstream choice
Despite campaigns by rivals such as the SCO Group and Microsoft, Linux has become widely used. According to a June study by Forrester Research of 129 companies with annual revenue exceeding $500 million, 24 percent use Linux on 10 or more Intel-based servers today and 44 percent expect to do so three years from now. That's still a far cry from the 88 percent that use Windows, but it's making gains on the most popular Unix, Sun's Solaris, at 43 percent.

IDC's worldwide market share shows that Windows outshipped Linux in 2003 for server operating systems, with 15 percent of the 5.6 million copies sold compared with Linux's 6.8 percent and Unix's 5 percent.

But on desktop computers, Linux moved up, surpassing Apple Computer's Mac OS, said researcher Dan Kusnetzky. Linux is still not a mainstream product for desktop machines, though, he said.

And Linux skills are in demand. Of the 49,000 or so jobs open at online recruiting company Dice, about 2,200 require or desire Linux skills, said Chief Executive Scot Melland. That's nearly triple the number from 12 months ago, he said. "Linux skills are one of the fastest-growing skill sets on our site."

New moves
There's little doubt that Linux advocates hope those numbers will increase even more.

IBM, for example, wants to foster Linux advancements around its Power processor--not a common foundation for Linux compared with Intel or Advanced Micro Devices chips. At LinuxWorld, Big Blue plans to announce that schools such as the University of Portland are participating in a program to try Power-based servers and Linux; that new software companies such as StoneSoft, Acucorp, Congnos and HansaWorld are supporting the combination; and that programs will be forthcoming to encourage more such partnerships.

Among the partnership programs is one in which IBM will give a business partner $5,000 in joint marketing funds for a product that involves Linux. The amount rises to $7,500 for a program involving the Power version of Linux and $10,000 if another business partner is also included in a three-way partnership called a "Valuenet."

IBM set up 50 Linux Valuenets in 2003 and expects to exceed its goal of 275 this year, said Scott Handy, vice president of Linux strategy IBM. The number of Linux applications running on Power processors has doubled from 300 to 600 so far this year, he added.

Rival HP has its own partnership plans. First, it will make in-house Linux training, software and information programs available to business partners, and second, it will try to coax into the Linux camp software companies that support Sun's Solaris version of Unix.

"We'll identify key Solaris ISVs (independent software vendors) that have not yet ported their applications to Linux and target those folks," said Jeffrey Wade, HP's Linux marketing communications manager.

And where IBM is pushing Linux on Power, HP advocates use of Intel's Itanium on the Integrity server line. Based on customer demand, HP accelerated its support for Linux on servers with eight or more Itanium chips, including its top-end Superdome servers, Wade said. The support, which had been scheduled to arrive half a year from now, will begin with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and extend to Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server a quarter later.

Sun warms to Linux
Sun no longer is shunning Linux, though the company's chief operating officer, Jonathan Schwartz, still shows a strong preference for Sun's own Solaris. Nevertheless, Sun will announce at the show that some software previously available only for Solaris soon will work on Red Hat and Novell's Linux.

That software is version 3 of Sun Ray Server, the software that runs on a server connected to bare-bones "thin client" desktop computers called Sun Rays. Sun Ray Server runs desktop software; currently one Sun UltraSparc-based running Solaris server is enough for about 20 desktop computers. The Linux version of the Sun Ray Server, due in the fourth quarter of 2004, will support at least the same number of Sun Rays, while adding the ability to run Linux desktop software not available on Solaris, said Benjamin Baer, a group product marketing in Sun's desktop software group.

In addition, Sun will make its programming tools, called Sun Studio 9, available on Linux, said John Fanelli, senior director of marketing for Sun's Network Systems Group.

Solaris is very important to Sun, but outsiders shouldn't doubt Sun's Linux commitment, Fanelli said. "The question of whether or not we're committed to supporting Linux is dwarfed by the number of product offerings Sun has today delivered into the Linux community," he said, mentioning multiple servers, the OpenOffice desktop software suite and Sun's Java Enterprise System server software.

Software companies also are on board. Veritas, which is used mostly in Unix environments, is elevating the Linux version of its Storage Foundation products while lowering the price, said Ranajit Nevatia, director of the company's Linux strategy.

For example, with a new clustering capability, a group of Linux computers can share access to the same file system, a crucial move in the growing trend toward databases spread over multiple computers instead of a single larger machine.

In addition, Veritas will trumpet a "Linux in minutes" strategy coming with Storage Foundation 4, available now for Solaris and on Sept. 6 for Linux and IBM's AIX version of Unix. Data is stored identically on all three platforms, making it possible to move quickly information from one system from another.

Later versions in 2005 will support the HP-UX version of Unix on HP's on Itanium and PA-RISC servers, he added.