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Year in review: Open source

The Linux operating system and open-source software in general gained their first foothold on networked server computers in 2002, and advocates began a push to desktop computers.


Penguin power

The open-source movement had a good year.

The Linux operating system and open-source software in general gained their first foothold on networked server computers in 2002, and emboldened advocates began a push to desktop computers as well.

First to the desktop effort were Red Hat, the top dog in Linux sales, and Sun Microsystems--always looking for new ways to nettle archenemy Microsoft. Sun's StarOffice suite and its open-source cousin OpenOffice are key parts of most Linux desktop plans.

Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system, is the best-known example of open-source software--collaboratively developed programs whose underlying code may be freely shared, modified and redistributed. Open-source projects have begun saturating the computing industry, with big-name companies contributing to once-amateur efforts and even opening the source of their own programs.

The initial Linux desktop plans, accelerated by onerous price increases from Microsoft, were aimed at companies whose employees perform limited tasks such as entering data into online order forms. But by the end of the year, No. 2 Linux seller SuSE had begun discussing more ambitious desktop plans, and even Wal-Mart had entered the fray.

The pressure is twofold: Microsoft must fend off the threat, and Linux companies must deliver on a promise that flopped spectacularly at companies such as Eazel and Corel.

Sun's plan to offer Linux desktops is notable because until recently, the company kept Linux at arm's length. Sun was the last major server seller holding out against the OS, but began its reversal in February, giving Linux a place alongside its own Solaris operating system and, more remarkable, bowing to the economic power of Intel servers.

Microsoft, meanwhile, expanded its own watered-down version of open-source collaboration, letting select companies peek at the source code to Windows, if not actually allowing them to change it. The company hasn't warmed to Linux, though, gleefully distributing a third-party study showing Windows to be cheaper in most server tasks than Linux.

Microsoft and its allies are also lobbying to undermine Linux, though the company has found that its disparaging words have backfired. For their part, Linux and open-source fans have countered with their own political agitating.

Next year, industry eyes scrutinize how well current projects are faring. Among those efforts are UnitedLinux's move to counterbalance Red Hat, and a major upgrade to Linux, expected by June.

--Stephen Shankland

IBM: Investment nearly recouped
Big Blue almost regains the $1 billion it invested in the Linux operating system in 2001. "We think it was money well spent. Almost all of it, we got back," an executive said.

January 29, 2002

McNealy dons penguin suit
In a move designed to erase doubts about the sincerity of Sun Microsystems' decision to embrace Linux, CEO Scott McNealy wears a penguin suit to an analysts meeting.

February 7, 2002

Microsoft opens its Windows
The software giant opens its Windows source code to systems integrators in an effort to appease both a federal judge and its major customers.

February 21, 2002

Unified rivals won't faze Red Hat
A move by four sellers of Linux to unite behind a single version of the operating system isn't likely to dent the dominance of the top dog, Red Hat.

May 31, 2002

Big computing flexes muscle
Even for those who don't like it, Linux has become an unavoidable part of the computing landscape.

August 11, 2002

Red Hat, Sun to boost desktop Linux
The chief executives at Red Hat and Sun Microsystems say they're gearing up to sell Linux for desktop computers.

August 13, 2002

Playing nicely with others
Red Hat uses its position as the dominant seller of the Linux operating system to try to smooth over a long-running divide about the look and feel of the OS.

September 30, 2002

Torvalds: Next one due by June
The next version of the heart of the Linux operating system is expected by June, project founder and leader Linus Torvalds predicts.

October 25, 2002

Microsoft memo: Fight is backfiring
Some of Microsoft's efforts to disparage open-source software such as Linux have backfired, according to a recent memo by the software maker.

November 6, 2002

IDC study says Windows cheaper
Research firm IDC, in a Microsoft-funded study, reinforces a Microsoft argument that Linux is more expensive to administer than Windows.

December 3, 2002


• Data-loss bug afflicts Linux
• Open-source clan in spat with Sun
• Ogg Vorbis tunes in to hardware
• Linux animated with DreamWorks
• Oracle clusters support Linux
• Red Hat turns high-end
• Torvalds looks into bottleneck
• Veritas brings storage software
• Red Hat, HP join for Itanium Linux
• IBM to build fastest supercomputers