It's the Directory, Stupid

Opinion: Until Red Hat, Novell, or another party focuses around open-source directory services, Linux will be stuck playing catch-up with Windows 2000.

I've been covering Linux and open-source software closely since the dawn of this millennium, and over those seven or so years I've become a believer in the potency of the open-source development model.

Consider SUSE Linux 6.4, which shipped about a month after Windows 2000 was launched. From that 2000 SUSE release to the recently-minted OpenSUSE 10.3, this Linux distribution drew from and added to an impressive cache of code, including multiple, well-crafted solutions to more than a few computing problems that Microsoft has not yet or is only beginning to address itself.

And yet, for all this development vitality, Linux's worldwide desktop and midmarket server share trails that of its proprietary competition (mostly Windows) by a huge margin—even in parts of the world where Linux's cost advantages carry more weight than they do here in the United States.

If the vendors and projects that comprise the Linux and open-source community are to unlock the potential of Linux, they should let Windows 2000 serve as a lesson. In addition to a handsome new blue background, Windows 2000 saw the debut of Active Directory. Ever since, Windows clients and servers have enjoyed the option of membership in an relatively accessible and reasonably scalable directory service as a birthright—certain SKUs excepted, naturally.


While the Linux and open-source community has been busily constructing data center goodies and scratching individual developers desktop itches, there's no rallying point for Xen or GNOME project of open-source directory services. It's this piece that's required to enable the multiseat deployment scenarios that should be driving Linux share growth.

Right now, the open-source directory server options boil down to Red Hat/Fedora Directory Server, and OpenLDAP, neither of which are positioned to challenge Active Directory. Despite its name, Fedora hasn't done much at all to push the Fedora Directory Server in its Linux releases, and Red Hat's sights are trained on the portion of the market in which a preexisting directory is assumed.

Then there's OpenLDAP, which some question on scalability grounds, and most coil away from for its rough edges and its lack of anything approaching AD-like integration with Linux distributions.

Returning to SUSE, that distribution's current steward, Novell, seems like an obvious champion leader for an open-source directory services initiative, but concerns over cannibalizing the company's proprietary eDirectory sales might keep Novell from becoming a rallying point in such an effort.

Until Red Hat, Novell, or another party steps up to focus the community's development resources around this goal, these vendors and the rest of the Linux and open-source ecosystem will remain stuck playing catch-up with Windows 2000.


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