Is it possible to have both your best year ever and your worst year ever in the same 365 days? It is if youre Linux and open source.
The bad news can be summarized in one companys name: SCO. What started in March as a contract dispute with IBM quickly became an assault against Linux, then against the GPL that underlies Linuxs intellectual property, and more recently against any big business that uses Linux.
In what has seemed like an endless flood of announcements, SCO has assaulted Linux on what has felt like an almost weekly basis. Now, mind you, SCO has yet to show proof that anyone outside of SCOs closest friends believes the companys claims hold water, but the sheer volume of SCOs attacks has muddied Linuxs acceptance at many firms.
Frankly, Im sick of the entire affair, but much as I might like to say the SCO matter will either dry up and blow away or just come to an abrupt end, thats not going to happen. Brace yourselves, in 2004, were going to hear just as much about SCO and Linux as we did in 2003.
Thats a great pity, because Linux has made both great technical and business strides in 2003.
Linux in the enterprise
With Linux 2.6, Linux is now ready for any, I repeat, any, core enterprise business work. As a server platform, Linux is as capable, if not more so, as AIX, Solaris, UnixWare or Server 2003.
At the low end, thanks to its low-cost deployment and maintenance, Linux has become the server of choice for small to medium-sized businesses for their file and Web server needs.
It wasnt just a great technical year for Linux though. Samba, Apache and other open-source mainstays also made significant steps forward.
As for the desktop, though, I, for one, still dont see Linux as the top choice. I like Linux on my desktop, but I still havent seen a Linux desktop that I think companies are going to want to deploy for their information workers.
That said, I do think a popular business Linux desktop is getting closer. Suns Java Desktop System (JDS) shows great promise. Now, if only Sun would make up its mind if it wants to support Linux or kill it!
Desktop distributions like Xandros Xandros Desktop OS 2 are also looking much more interesting. Microsoft, of all companies, may actually be the Linux desktops biggest friend; as Redmond closes the books on low-end desktop systems like Windows 98SE, cost-conscious companies may consider cheaper alternatives than Windows XP Pro.
This fact hasnt been lost on other companies. IBM broke the ice for big-time corporate IT support for Linux, but now Novell, with its forthcoming purchase of SUSE, and Oracle, with its all-out support of Linux from the desktop to the server, are making Linux a safe choice for corporate IT buyers who are more impressed by vendor stability than technological innovation.
The saying used to be that you could never get fired for buying IBM, then it morphed into you could never get fired by buying Microsoft; now, its becoming you can never get fired by buying Linux. Albeit, SCO does its best to make IT buyers think that that is exactly the case. The truth of the matter is that in 2003 Linux was becoming just as much a business staple as Intel-based servers and Windows-based desktops. In 2004, with strong vendor support, Linux will become, once and for all, part of business computings mainstream.
A look ahead at
So what does that mean in 2004? I predict that not only will Linuxs growth in the server arena continue, its growth rate, its delta, will also increase. This also will be the year when that growth starts to come at the expense of Microsoft server systems.
I also predict that some major companies will start experimenting with mass deployment of Linux-based desktop systems. Some of these will be JDS-based, others will be based on a Novell/SuSE/Ximian desktop later in the year, and still others will use other GNOME and KDE desktop approaches. 2004 wont be the year of the Linux desktop, but the foundation will be laid.
It will be a great year for Linux, a great year for open source, and, unfortunately, another year filled with the battle between SCO and Linux. But, hey, two out of three isnt bad.
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eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about Unix and Linux since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.