From joke to curiosity to embraceable you: Our Linux is here to stay

By Joel Shore, ITworld |  Opinion

Everywhere I turn, there it is. Nearly every vendor pitching me with a
story idea is embracing it. Programmers who don't already know it are
scurrying to learn. It's Linux, of course.

When Linux first appeared a number of years ago (the first kernel was
released in 1994), many of us in tech journalism and integrators in the
trenches scoffed. We had seen many operating systems come and go.
Whether it was DR-DOS, UCSD pSystem, OS/2, Pick, NeXT, EDX, CPM, GEM, or
a hundred others, they lit up the sky for a brief moment, then
disappeared.

Linux is different. It's got legs. It's here to stay.

What's different, relative to OS/2, is that Linux has drawn widespread
support. Support from hardware vendors, software houses, distributors,
and, especially, corporate IT executives. IBM has certainly anted up,
bringing Linux to just about every server line it sells.

Even Sun has seen the light. No longer just the company pitching Solaris
as an alternative to Windows, the company is now a staunch supporter of
Linux (http://wwws.sun.com/software/linux/), pitching it as the new
Windows alternative. It had to be a humbling experience for Sun's Scott
McNealy, but Sun is pitching itself as "a leader in enterprise products
and services and is bringing its expertise to Linux." Indeed, Sun is
offering both the Red Hat and SuSE Linux implementations.

Novell, purveyor of the once mighty NetWare operating system, saw the
future too, laying down more than $200 million to snap up SuSE Linux.
It's a repeat of the acquisition some years ago of Unix Systems
Laboratories; hopefully this move will meet with greater success.

Gartner, a market house that keeps track of such things, reported
recently that shipments of Linux-based servers hit 660,000 in 2003, up
from 425,000 in 2002. That's a quarter of today's server operating
system market. But hold on: Gartner expects that number hit 1.5 million
by 2008. By any standard, this is an impressive trend, one that even
free giveaway copies of Windows Server isn't going to stop.

No less a force than IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano is fully on
board. During his speech at IBM's recent PartnerWorld conference in Las
Vegas, he said, "A few years ago, when we said Linux was ready for the
enterprise, it was considered a joke." He's joking no more. "Things have
changed."

But what, exactly?

It's fair to say that people first looked at Linux as the
anti-Microsoft, a way to get a computer up and running without writing a
check to Gates & Co. And that was true. Unfortunately, the product was
less than fully baked. But it had "buzz," something that other DOS and
Windows alternatives historically lacked.

For a while, there was talk of running Linux on every conceivable
platform, from mainframe to server, from desktop to handheld, even to
your TV's remote control unit. That didn't last long.

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