Linux gaining respect

Oracle, Informix, and Netscape are among the slew of vendors lining up to support the open-source version of Unix.

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Linux is finally gaining respect outside the hallowed halls of academia.

A slew of vendors is lining up this week to announce support for the open-source--meaning free--version of the Unix operating system. Among those jumping on the Linux train are Oracle, Informix, and Netscape.

"Over the last few months, as the groundswell for Linux has increased, our customers have asked for Oracle's commitment to this popular platform," said Gary Bloom, executive vice president of Oracle's system products group. "The recent series of announcements from Netscape, Oracle, and other vendors in support of Linux is the direct result of developer demand for a low cost, open standards alternative to Windows NT."

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Freeware? For its part, the Redwood Shores, California-based firm is porting its year-old Oracle8 database to the Linux system. It will initially be available on the Intel platform and will be available by year's end for a 90-day free trial via the Web.

Meanwhile, down the road in Menlo Park, California, sources at Informix confirmed it will announce this week, at its user group conference in Seattle, support for the Linux platform. Informix executives are not commenting on any details of their plans until the announcement tomorrow.

Netscape has been a longtime supporter of the operating system, mainly because of its popularity among Internet service providers and other Internet savvy businesses. Netscape today announced it is developing Linux versions of its entire server software line starting with Netscape Messaging Server and Netscape Directory Server. Netscape already has a beta version available of its Communicator 4.5 client software for Linux.

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Linux, which now has about 7 million users, was invented eight years ago by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki. It has since spread as an alternative to the proprietary Unix operating systems and to Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. Linux, by many accounts, is now the fastest growing Unix platform.

While the price can't be beat, the vendors now spending money to support the product say Linux's growing popularity isn't driven just by cost--the quality of the product is also at issue.

"Price-performance is an issue, but cheap isn't everything," said Steve Lambright, Informix's senior manager for server product marketing. "If it was free but didn't work no one would use it. But it has a great high value to low price ratio. It is extremely high quality and extremely flexible. This is ready for the enterprise."

Informix had reportedly scrapped plans earlier this year to port to Linux when its financial situation took a dive. But heavy demand, particularly among Internet service providers, has driven the firm to do an about face. Research firm Datapro recently reported that Linux has jumped in one year from the seventh to the fourth most commonly installed version of Unix.

"We see Linux poised in the same vane as the Web was two or three years ago, when it was just beginning to take off," Lambright said. "There is a movement of Linux away from academia and into the enterprise."

It's a factor Netscape has been claiming for awhile. The Mountain View, California-based Internet software vendor often cites Linux as the model for its open source code program which has resulted in the freeware distribution of the company's Communicator Web software suite.

"Linux has matured to the point where it is competitive to other operating systems in terms of stability and performance," said Tim Howes, chief technical officer of Netscape's server product division. "It has some very attractive qualities, not the least of which is the open-source code."

Other vendors who have joined in the Linux crusade are Corel, which released a Linux version of WordPerfect, and InterBase, a subsidiary of Inprise (formerly Borland International), which ported its database to Linux.