Microsoft, IBM Debate Linuxs Success

Microsoft's Miller can't find data corroborating claims of huge growth in Linux servers; IBM's Mauri says data shows Linux to be the fastest-growing OS two years in a row.

NEW YORK--Officials from Microsoft Corp. are once again attending the annual LinuxWorld conference and expo here, which started today, to keep abreast of what the competition is up to.

In an interview with eWEEK, Doug Miller, the director of competitive strategy in Microsofts Windows division, said Linux is just one of the competitors that Microsoft actively tracks, especially those aspects that its customers find appealing.

"Linux is certainly a competitor in the server space, and we actively follow it," Miller said. "But there is so much hype about Linux that we are continually trying to sort out what is fact from fiction. There are so many different statistics about the growth in Linuxs market share, but we have yet to find any data that corroborates the claims of huge growth in actual servers shipped with Linux."

Third-party reports from research groups like International Data Corp., Gartner Inc. and brokerage Goldman Sachs have showed actual Linux server shipments to be flat and that there are far less corporate interest in moving to Linux than is being claimed, he added.

But Ross Mauri, the vice president of eServer development for IBM in Armonk, N.Y., disputed this, telling eWEEK that recent IDC data showed that distributed copies of the Linux operating system grew 24 percent in 2001, making it the fastest-growing operating system the second year in a row.

"Even in a down economy Linux continues to accelerate and outstrip the other operating environments," he said.

But Miller downplayed this, saying these were free copies distributed from a variety of sources, and many of them were probably never even loaded or used. The number that needed to be considered was actual shipment growth and user adoptions, he said.

Mauri said Microsoft is "on the wrong side of the fence on this one," citing estimates from IDC that by the end of 2002 some 9 percent of corporate IT budgets will be spent on Linux-based and -enabled systems.

"This figure didnt exist last year, and in 2002 it will stand at 9 percent. That tells me a lot about what will happen in 2002 as customers speak with their money," he said. IDC also estimates that Linux will have a 32 percent share of the server market by the end of 2002, which is greater than the 27 percent estimate for 2002 it made last year, he said.

A January Viewpoint by Vernon Turner, the group vice president of global enterprise server solutions for IDC, said there were several key messages within its revised forecast.

"The forecast shows that the Linux server market will actually increase in terms of revenues and server unit sales in 2001 and 2002. Much of the activity will happen in servers priced less than $6K. Additionally, the traditional mainframe market (today represented by IBM G-Series and zSeries servers) appears to be resistant to the market conditions and appears to be holding its own in terms of revenue and unit sales.

"These points may reflect the progress that Linux has made in the very low end of the server market, and the renewed interest that IT managers have placed on the apparent advantages of the mainframe (e.g., server consolidation)," he said in the forecast.

But Microsofts Miller was undeterred, saying the Redmond, Wash., software firm will continue to come out with "credible evidence" from third parties that reflect the competitive nature of Windows compared with Linux, particularly on a cost basis.

"We have been looking into the total cost of ownership for both the Linux and Windows platforms, particularly given the current economic climate," he said. "Recent studies have shown that the cost of the operating system is just 3 to 4 percent of the total solution cost."

Many customers are surprised when they find this out and they realize that Linux is not completely free…that there are significant hardware, support and other costs associated with it," he said.

But a December memo (/article/0,3658,s%253D707%2526a%253D20732,00.asp) from Brian Valentine, a vice president of Microsofts Windows division and leaked to the media, illustrates just how seriously Redmond views Linux. It is developing a community to cooperating in winning business from Linux, to establishing a new Linux/Unix escalation campaign and debunking the myths around Linux, such as the perception that its free.

Valentine also cited an "independent analysis" commissioned by D.H. Brown that would look at the issue of server consolidation, saying that "the D.H. Brown report will be customer-ready and will help them understand just how competitive Microsoft is in this arena." Miller declined to comment on the memo or its contents.

Miller also confirmed that while Microsoft had not ruled out developing Linux-based versions of its software, it would first be closely watching the success of such software from other companies like Oracle Corp. and Computer Associates.

"We continue to listen to our customers and, if large numbers of them tell us they need Microsoft solutions on Linux, we will seriously consider this. But there is no such groundswell of demand for such products from our customers and I am not convinced that existing Linux users and customers will be prepared to pay for Linux products from Microsoft," he said.

The greatest shift was coming as users moved from Unix to Linux and not from Windows to Linux, with Sun Microsystems, Inc. continuing to lose the most clients to Linux. "It is relatively easy to move from Unix to Linux and the biggest shift is coming from there. Linux is being used in addition to Windows, it rarely replaces it in totality," he said.

Microsoft also remained committed to the interoperability of its own and other platforms and would be paying a lot of attention on this with regard to its Windows, .Net and Enterprise Server lines, he concluded.