With Wall Street's Linux spark rained out, advocates of the comparatively new operating system have switched to quieter but likely more effective means of conquering the world.
The new approach will be on display this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York, where Linux start-ups and computing goliaths will gather to show off their wares.
The Linux operating system, a clone of Unix initiated by Linus Torvalds in 1991, has blossomed into a standard feature in the corporate computer landscape. Its growth went hand in hand with the Internet technology frenzy, but only a handful of companies--notably Red Hat, VA Linux Systems, Andover.net and Cobalt Networks--managed to go public while investor appetite was still voracious.
Now only Red Hat and VA remain independent, and the revolutionary attitude has been replaced by the equivalent of trench warfare. Linux companies now are coaxing new business partnerships, gradually winning over new customers, and doggedly hammering out improvements to the software.
The standard-bearer for the new Linux reality is IBM, in particular President Sam Palmisano. A year ago, Palmisano pushed Big Blue to its current position as one of the loudest and most determined Linux advocates, with the company spreading Linux across all four of its major server lines.
During his opening keynote address Wednesday, Palmisano will declare that the Linux effort has advanced from convincing established computing companies to support the operating system to winning over customers who actually use it, sources familiar with the speech said.
While this message is undeniably self-serving, more independent observers generally agree. Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich believes Linux has conquered many of its early problems--the scarcity of programs built to run atop it, the immaturity of technical support, its confinement to low-end computers--and now Linux poses a serious threat to Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has declared Linux to be the software giant's No. 1 threat.
Some go even further. The code-sharing, cooperative "open source" programming model that underlies Linux is a "better mousetrap" than the closed-source, proprietary methods employed by Microsoft, Deutsche Banc Alex Brown analyst Phil Rueppel and colleagues said in a 147-page report earlier this month. Specifically, open-source software naturally shifts priorities away from the companies that sell software--Microsoft and Oracle, for example--and toward the customers that use the software.
"From its inception as a school project to its capturing of 30 percent (of server operating system sales) in 10 short years, Linux has proven beyond a doubt that the open-source model can lead to the development of robust technologies faster than in a closed-source model," Rueppel said.
Evidently, many companies agree. Hewlett-Packard plans to announce high-end server software for Linux at the show, and Compaq has its eye on the same market.
Even the National Security Agency has an interest. This month, the secretive federal code-breakers and electronic snoopers hired Secure Computing to bring its high-security features to Linux.
Some consolidation in Linux is taking place as Red Hat's competitors try to keep up in North America and match its expansion abroad, said Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt. "Red Hat and SuSE are rising to the top," while competing Linux sellers Caldera Systems and Turbolinux are faltering.
SuSE, with a solid customer base in German-speaking countries, will have a tough time expanding, she added. "The North American market is a significant challenge given Red Hat's overwhelming market share," Quandt said.
The established presence of Linux is spurring numerous Linux announcements this week, though. Among them:
• Borland will unveil its Delphi programming kit for Linux, called Kylix. The product is designed to let people write software that works with Linux and Windows, sources said. The software has been developed with help from CodeWeavers, a group working to commercialize the Wine software for running Windows software on Linux machines.
• MontaVista Software, one of the more prominent companies working to squeeze Linux into non-PC, "embedded" computing devices, will announce it's signed up to be the exclusive seller of IBM Java software for small Linux gadgets. The company also will declare that its 2000 revenue grew tenfold compared with 1999 and ended up 15 percent higher than the company projected.
• Applied Data Systems will demonstrate its own embedded Linux software, including additions that let Linux systems using Intel's popular StrongArm and XScale chips go into a power-saving "sleep" mode. The company also will show HP's Chai software, a clone of Java, running on its hardware.
• Linux International will "relaunch" itself as the largest Linux industry group.
• Open-source e-commerce software maker Zelerate will announce it has signed VA Linux Systems as a new customer. The company also will announce a new version of its software that includes XML (Extensible Markup Language) support.
• Polyserver will show new clustering software to let one Linux computer take over when any of its nine other comrades fail.
• Argus Systems Group will unveil its PitBull LX software designed to protect Linux computers against attacks.
• BigStorage will unveil its network-attached storage product, called K2. The product, based on Linux, has dual processors, can manage as many as 40 terabytes of data, and has software for taking "snapshots" of files stored on the system.
• An embedded Linux software company called Coventive Technologies will show a Linux-based Internet appliance for watching television or surfing the Net. The company also will show a handheld computer using Linux that will go on sale in China later this year.