2004: Linux VS. FUD

Linux must contend with FUD and cost-of-ownership assertions.

Having earned the right to be seriously considered for many enterprise applications, Linux faces a year in 2004 in which it will be tested in several ways. The most notable tests, as the curtain rises on the LinuxWorld show in New York this week, come from the two-pronged campaign of FUD—fear, uncertainty and doubt—spearheaded by the intellectual property claims of SCO and the dubious cost-of-ownership claims of Microsoft.

SCO says that Linux contains code rightfully belonging to SCO and that SCO must be compensated for its use. SCO CEO Darl McBride has lately gone further, asserting that the GNU General Public License—under which Linux and much other software is distributed—is not legally tenable. McBrides campaign against a license endorsed by many vendors, including the presumably well-counseled IBM, is highly quixotic, but the cloud that it casts is real.

Microsoft has opened a second front in the offensive with its assertions that the costs of Linux are higher than generally believed. We applaud any effort to question conventional wisdom, and we certainly agree that the price tag on a technology purchase is the tip of the iceberg of its total cost. But Microsofts efforts are certainly permeated by self-interest, and those studying its claims must keep that in mind. Statements about the well-established skills base for Microsoft technologies ring less true today than they might have two years ago, as Microsofts technology portfolio approaches a dramatic turnover while Linux expertise becomes ever-more pervasive among the next generation of IT pros.

The proposition of Linux on the desktop will also be tested. While adoption may not mushroom, there are now far more credible forces backing this kind of deployment than in the past. Nations such as China and municipal governments such as that of Munich, Germany, promise to deploy it en masse. IBM is reported to be in the midst of an internal push to deploy Linux on its corporate desktops, and Lindows has made a deal to bundle its operating system on laptops.

In 2004 the Linux 2.6 kernel, a major release, will face testing for bugs and stability. If all goes well, it will be packaged into distributions. It would be a surprise if there were problems. The development of the kernel has been proceeding in an orderly way despite the belief among some commercial software vendors that the open-source development free-for-all would inevitably collapse into chaos. Also to be tested are the commitments of new Linux proponents Sun and Novell. Sun looks now as if its serious about an evenhanded offering of Linux and the companys Solaris. Even more convincing are Novells moves last year to buy Ximian and SuSE.

The preponderance of momentum is in the direction of continuing growth for Linux—and Linux, even as its being tested, will continue to put conventional commercial software practices to demanding tests in return.

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