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NT, NetWare, Unix vie for lead

Microsoft's server OS blows past software from Novell and Unix-based players this past year, but Unix maintains a significant lead in revenue.

Microsoft's Windows NT Server operating system blew past software from Novell and various Unix-based players this past year in units shipped, but Unix maintained a significant lead in revenue, and continues to rule at the high-end, according to final 1997 numbers released by market researcher International Data Corporation.

A battle has shaped up between Microsoft's Windows NT Server operating system, various forms of Unix sold by Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and others; and Novell's NetWare software. However, IBM's OS/2 continues afar from prominence.

"In terms of trends, one could say that Windows NT Server and NetWare continue to be sold very heavily and that Unix is still growing," said Jean Bozman, a software analyst for IDC. "However, over time we expect to see more Unix growth in the midrange and high-end markets."

In other words, while Unix will likely continue to grow in revenue terms, the software is likely to be used in a higher end role, reducing volume for the various operating system variants.

NT, in the meantime, continues to win converts at the departmental level for new applications, where its low price and relatively easy installation matter most .

However, NT so far has not taken hold outside of the departmental level. Microsoft is trying to rectify that situation by targeting an enterprise version of NT at larger servers. Also, Windows NT 5.0 is expected to address scalability limitations by supporting additional processors and large clustered systems. But NT 5.0's delivery data has slipped again, and the software isn't expected to ship until the first half of next year, at the earliest.

Overall, total revenue from sales of server operating system software was $5.6 billion. Various Unix variants grabbed the largest chunk of the pie, representing 45.8 percent of total revenue. Microsoft's NT represented 34.2 percent of the total market while Novell's NetWare sales came in at 19 percent of the market. IBM's sluggish OS/2 represented a 1.1 percent share. Microsoft and Novell's sales include software sold through third party sales channels.

Overall growth in operating system sales from 1996 to 1997 was 15.3 percent.

Looking out toward 2002, IDC predicts that NT will exhibit a compound annual growth rate of 21 percent compared to Unix's growth rate of 10 percent over the same period.

Microsoft's NT took charge in sheer unit volume, pulling 36 percent of sales, compared with NetWare's 26.4 percent, Unix's 20.7 percent, Linux servers' 6.8 percent, and OS/2's 6.3 percent. Total unit sales for 1997 was 3.5 million.

Other findings include: NT Server's installed base is predicted to surpass Unix in 1999 and NetWare in the year 2000. Shipments of NT Server experienced the fastest growth, year over year, of 73 percent, compared to Unix variants, which grew 17 percent. More than half of NT shipments were for file and print use, while 10 percent of Unix shipments were for that purpose.