Linux moves on to next battles

Having cracked the mainstream, penguin pushers are moving on to a new challenge: wooing the information technology industry. LinuxWorld is the launching pad for this fight.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science Credentials
  • I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Stephen Shankland
6 min read

Special Coverage
It's a LinuxWorld
Read CNET News.com's complete
coverage from the Linux gathering.

Linux, having just won the fight for mainstream respectability, has moved to a challenge that's less glamorous but just as important: making itself attractive to the information technology industry.

Past victories for the open-source operating system have included securing a place in product lines from every major server maker, coaxing business software companies such as Oracle and SAP to release Linux versions, winning the trust of major customers, and rising to become one of Microsoft's top threats.

Now, to make Linux a more natural fit for customers, computing companies are extending the software to make Linux easier to manage and run.

Several companies are set to display such wares this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Management software stalwarts--including Veritas Software, BMC Software and Computer Associates International--plan to show their expanding portfolio of Linux products there. In addition, smaller companies--such as Altiris, Linuxcare and Aduva--expect to advance their ideas; and server companies, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard, promise to tout their own administration tools at the show.

System management software is one of the obstacles to the wider use of Linux. Although Linux products grew to account for 26 percent of the server operating systems sold in 2002, it's still often more expensive to operate than rival software, IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky said.

"The things that have been pain points--better management, a greater portfolio of application software, tools that make a more reliable system--all of those are coming online rapidly," Kusnetzky said.

As a result of this gradual maturing, Linux is on track to meet IDC's once-mocked prediction, made in 1997, that Linux would catch on in just about every market, from manufacturing and banking to health care and insurance. The research firm believes Linux is following the same course as earlier operating systems that moved from academic circles to broader use.

"Unix followed that track, VMS followed that track, Windows followed that to some extent," Kusnetzky said. "Now, Linux and its cousin BSD (Unix) are following that track."

The trade show industry is going along with the expansion. LinuxWorld was hurt in recent years by the economic downturn, by the dot-com

Dances with penguins
Linux is the dance partner of
choice for a growing number
of financial institutions.

implosion and by diminished enthusiasm for new technology purchases--but the show is recovering. LinuxWorld New York increased from 16,800 attendees in 2002 to 19,383 this year, while the San Francisco version of the show grew from 18,000 in 2001 to 20,070 last year, organizer IDG World Expo said.

This year in San Francisco, the show is adjusting by offering specific programs to attract people who have purchasing authority--for example, chief information officers and buyers from financial services companies.

This week's LinuxWorld has scheduled keynote addresses by executives from the top three server companies: Peter Blackmore of HP, Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems and Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM. Other speakers are Matthew Szulik, head of top Linux seller Red Hat, and Charles Rozwat, head of server technologies for Oracle, the leading database software maker.

And, for the third time, Linux rival Microsoft will be at the show. It promises "thoughtful, productive discussions" on subjects such as its software for running Unix programs on Windows. Also up for discussion is its shared-source program, which grants outsiders some liberties with its software, to a lesser extent than the open-source movement does.

The new bad guy: SCO Group
While Microsoft has been described as Linux's greatest threat, a new candidate has appeared: SCO. The Lindon, Utah-based company was once a Linux seller, but it now focuses on selling licenses for Unix intellectual property it bought in 2001. SCO has said that some Linux products infringe on its copyrights. In July, it threatened legal action against companies using Linux if they don't buy a Unix license from SCO.

Analysts differ on how much of a threat is posed by SCO's actions, which have taken their most serious form in a $3 billion lawsuit against IBM. While most advise caution, Linux advocates offer assurances that customers needn't worry.

"It's not the customer that's really exposed, it's companies like ourselves, and we're going to deal with it," Juergen Geck, chief technology officer of Linux seller SuSE, said in an interview.

Mike Balma, HP's Linux business strategist, said his company does not believe there is any intellectual property infringement involved in use of Linux. He added that HP is continuing to support the operating system and to help its customers put it to use.

So far, the damage to Linux companies from SCO's actions has been slight, some analysts believe. For example, Red Hat has yet to be hit hard, according to Katherine Egbert, an analyst at C.E. Unterberg, Towbin.

"To date, we believe the SCO suit against IBM, and SCO's demand for payment by Linux users, has had little impact on Red Hat's sales cycle or its ability to sell Linux," Egbert said in a research report Friday.

Despite this, Linux advocates mustn't leave the initiative in the battle to SCO, said John Ferrell, an intellectual property attorney with Carr and Ferrell.

"IBM and Red Hat need to step up. It's time to take SCO to the mat," Ferrell said. "Somebody needs to take SCO to court and ask for declaratory judgment...Is there copyright infringement or not? It's creating a real fog in the Linux community now."

Microsoft still looming
Linux supporters also can't afford to ignore Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., software maker isn't ignoring Linux: Chief Executive Steve Ballmer warned of the OS's growing threat in a May memo.

The advantages Microsoft brings to its rivalry with Linux providers include popular programming tools, $49 billion in cash and dominant market share. In 2002, Microsoft pulled in more than 50 percent of all the money spent worldwide on all operating systems--the first time that had happened, Kusnetzky said.

"The whole market for Linux was under $90 million in 2002, and it looks like it will be on track for about that for 2003," Kusnetzky said. "Microsoft operating systems produced more revenue in the first one or two business days of 2002 than the whole Linux market (did) in the whole year."

Red Hat hopes to gain from one project to compete better with Microsoft's programming tools. The Linux seller is a member of the Eclipse group, an open-source Java project, and the new "Taroon" test version of its software includes version 2.1 of the Eclipse software. Red Hat plans to announce more developer news at the Linux show Tuesday.

One area where Linux has roundly defeated Microsoft is in "clusters" of computers ganged together to tackle high-performance computing challenges. At LinuxWorld, Dell has announced it was selected to build a 1,450-server Linux supercomputer cluster for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, a system that will be able to perform as many as 17.7 trillion calculations per second. And HP has is now selling a more-prebuilt cluster product, shipping from the factory with between 16 and 128 computers networked together.

But Microsoft, targeting more conventional business needs, plans to continue arguing that its products are cheaper to run, even if Linux is cheaper to buy.

"I'm really not worried at all when Linux costs less than Microsoft," said Martin Taylor, Microsoft's newly appointed general manager of platform strategy. Purchase price, the company contends, is just 3 percent to 5 percent of the total cost of software.

Kusnetzky agrees that the lower price of Linux software and hardware can be more than offset by larger administrative staffing costs over a five-year period. System management tools, though, could change the equation.

"As soon as people can bring Linux into the infrastructure and manage it the same way they manage everything else, then the costs of (Linux) would be no more expensive," Kusnetzky said.

Among the scheduled management software announcements at LinuxWorld:

•  Veritas plans to announce new versions of its storage software for Linux on IBM mainframes as well as software to link database servers together so that one can take over if another crashes.

•  CA plans to show Linux software from six different product lines for managing storage, security, applications and data.

•  HP plans to announce that its OpenView software can now run from a central Linux system, while its Rapid Deployment Pack for installing software on multiple servers will now be available for Linux as well as Windows. In addition, its GlancePlus software can be used to monitor Linux system performance.

•  BMC plans to unveil software for installing programs or running databases on mainframes based on Linux.

•  IBM intends to begin selling new Tivoli management software for making sure databases can withstand computer crashes.