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SAP jumps on Linux bandwagon

Giving customers another alternative to Microsoft, SAP is jumping on the Linux train with a plan to deliver R/3 to its customers on the Unix-like operating system later this year.

Giving customers another alternative to Microsoft, SAP is jumping on the Linux train with a plan to deliver R/3 to its customers on the Unix-like operating system later this year.

SAP's first shipment of its R/3 business application on Linux is expected in the third quarter of this year. The software giant plans to detail its Linux strategy and announce its partners for the initiative at CeBIT 99, to be held later this month in Hannover, Germany. At the show, the firm plans to demonstrate SAP R/3 running in the Linux environment.

While some analysts believes Linux will have little impact in the near-term on Windows, Unix, or Novell NetWare, momentum is indeed gathering for the upstart operating system developed by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds.

"I think Linux is clearly gaining some mind share out there," said Steve Bonadio, analyst at the Framingham, Massachusetts-based Hurwitz Group. "The fact that SAP is taking a look and deploying applications on Linux amounts to them saying we want to offer as much choice as possible and we don't want to rely on Microsoft."

SAP executives said the company's offering is simply a response to growing interest in Linux.

"It's driven by customer demand and market demand," said Peter Barth, a technology and marketing manager for SAP. "This is a platform suitable for business computing. We really think Linux is ready for prime time."

SAP plans to port its entire suite of core back office applications to Linux, Barth said, meaning customers will be able to run any applications they now run on Unix or NT on Linux.

SAP is also promising equal support to Linux customers, though details will not be provided until CeBIT. Barth said a "significant" number of SAP customers have requested Linux versions of R/3.

However, Yankee Group analyst Harry Tse said he doubts that more than 5 percent of SAP's client base will be interested in using the operating system.

"I don't really see a huge demand for it," he said, noting that most corporations already run mission-critical applications on Windows NT, and may face difficulties trying to tie other systems to an R/3 back office backbone running on Linux. "It creates another degree of complexity," he said, noting companies aren't likely to save any money by running Linux.

Support for SAP users running Linux is also an issue, analysts said.

"If there's any problem with the application, [SAP] supports it but that's about it," Tse said. "With operating systems, it's up to the customer."

Also at issue is which version of Linux SAP will use as its standard offering, Bonadio said.

SAP has not provided those details, nor has the company said whether it will partner with vendors such as Red Hat Software or LinuxCare to provide customers with support options.

Developed eight years ago, Linux is given away for free over the Internet, and can also be obtained with support from Red Hat and others. In recent weeks, the operating system has drawn considerable attention as a potential challenger to Microsoft. This week, the first major trade show for Linux, called LinuxWorld, is being held at the San Jose Convention Center.

While SAP is the first ERP (enterprise resource planning) software maker to announce shipping plans for applications on Linux, analysts say Oracle, Baan, and PeopleSoft will soon follow.

On the database end, Oracle, Sybase, and Informix Software have all announced plans to develop versions of their software for Linux, or are now shipping Linux products.

Market research firm International Data Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts, last year reported Linux was the fastest growing network operating system, outpacing the growth of Microsoft's Windows NT software.

In the past few months, major computer makers such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, and Dell Computer have all said they will offer Linux and support it, as an option to their customers.

Reuters contributed to this report.