Whats Next for Linux

By Scot Petersen  |  Posted 2004-02-03

Whats Next for Linux

NEW YORK—Linux is everywhere. its in your Web server. Its in your data center. Its in your desktop, your laptop and your handheld. It may soon be in your car and home appliances. Its being used by NASA to operate the Mars rover.

There may yet be enterprise IT executives still wondering when to jump in, but chances are, Linux is already being used somewhere in their organization. They need not look any further for a proof of concept than e-commerce company Amazon.com Inc., which, as an early adopter of Linux, began deploying it in 2000. Now, Linux runs its entire infrastructure.

"Linux is pervasive," said Ross Mauri, general manager of e-business on demand at IBM in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "Everyone was always pointing to the future. But weve stopped pointing. The future is here."

But now that Linux has arrived, where do we go from here? Executives contacted by eWEEK editors at LinuxWorld here last month were not as sure. Linux will no doubt extend deeper into markets already running Linux, but will Linux ever reach the holy grail of challenging Microsoft Corp. on the desktop? Leading Linux luminaries such as Linus Torvalds and his right-hand man, Andrew Morton, believe 2004 will be the year of the Linux desktop.

"In the early 1980s, we saw the transition to the PC, but I believe Linux has now matured to the point where it will be taking over as the next form of computing," said Sam Greenblatt, senior vice president and chief architect of Computer Associates International Inc.s Linux Technology Group, in Islandia, N.Y. "We are into the Linux generation."

A number of new technologies underscore Greenblatts views about Linuxs rosy future, such as Looking Glass, a three-dimensional, multimodal desktop under development at Sun Microsystems Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. The technology would help users move away from the Windows paradigm of today, Greenblatt said. "The Open Source Development Labs [Inc.] has also announced the Desktop Management Task Force, and we will all contribute to this. But Sun and Novell [Inc.], since its acquisition of open-source developer Ximian, will both be playing active roles on that task force," he said.

Next page: Evidence that Linux is challenging Windows.

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Consumers may not soon replace Windows with Linux on home PCs, but theres plenty of evidence that Linux is challenging Windows in many other client environments. Greenblatt, for example, used a Linux-based Sharp Electronics Corp. Zaurus 5600 PDA to run much of his LinuxWorld keynote presentation. Meanwhile, automaker DaimlerChrysler Corp. is working on a Linux-based management and navigation system for its cars.

"DaimlerChrysler recently demonstrated an S-class Mercedes equipped with Universal Mobile Telecommunications System services in Berlin. Applications demonstrated included radio, navigation, maintenance services, Internet access [including e-mail and Web browsing], an MP3 player, and games. Computer Associates is working with DaimlerChyrlser on the management," Greenblatt said.

Dave Dargo, vice president of Oracle Corp.s Linux Program Office, in Redwood Shores, Calif., said he believes Linux is on the verge of achieving mass-market enterprise capability. The 2.6 kernel was a great catalyst for the consolidation of many changes made after the production 2.4 kernel was released, Dargo said, so a lot of the work that was done in the 2.4 kernel around enterprise scalability, reliability and stability is now part of the 2.6 kernel.

"And all of those resources that were spent making 2.4 ready for the enterprise will be freed up once 2.6 is available, and [they will] be able to start working on the next set of things. As Red Hat [Inc.] and [Novell Inc.s] SuSE [Linux] both release 2.6 kernels, there will still be room for them to add new features that make it more robust," Dargo said. "This is an exciting time for all of us, and there is a sense of purpose, destiny and challenge among us all."

Indeed, large enterprises continue to invest in Linux where it performs best—on the server. The Weather Channel Enterprises Inc., in Atlanta, a longtime Linux shop, recently refreshed its server technology with 110 Dell Inc. PowerEdge servers running SuSE Linux. The upgrades allowed Weather. com to improve the reliability and speed of data to its customers during severe blizzards in December. The site served more than 34 million page views in one day—most of them dynamically generated—at an average response time of 1.31 seconds.

"Whether our customers are experiencing severe weather, planning a vacation or just trying to decide when to play a round of golf, theyve come to depend on the information we provide," said Dan Agronow, vice president of technology at Weather.com. "[The Linux servers] will help us continue to be one of the most reliable and popular sources of weather information on the Web."

Others, such as Red Hats Paul Cormier, in Westford, Mass., cautioned the recently released Linux 2.6 production kernel is not quite ready for the enterprise and said its implementation into shipping distributions could be a year away. But looking at the future, Cormier is bullish, saying on the server side it was "like a freight train moving."

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