Midsize Businesses Have No Use for Linux

Opinion: A recent report concludes few midsize enterprises have an interest in Linux. Large Unix consolidators and smaller, cash-strapped companies are another story.

A research report landed on my desk this week, the conclusions of which will be controversial to a few readers. But for the rest of us the report independently confirms what we already knew or suspected. It also tends to confirm what Microsoft has been saying, slaps down some zealots and reminds us that media hype cant always be trusted.

Heres the lead from the press release that arrived attached to the report:

"Most mid-sized enterprises are simply not interested in Linux, according to a recent study by Info-Tech Research Group. ... A tiny 10 percent of mid-sized enterprises plan to evaluate Linux within the next three years and only a portion of these will actually adopt it."

/zimages/6/28571.gifAlong with one of Microsofts favorite research firms, companies that use both Linux and Windows are finding that Windows has no cost advantage over Linux. Are we surprised? Click here to read Steven J. Vaughan Nichols column.

The just-released report includes results of a survey of more than 1,400 IT executives that was conducted in January. It includes responses from the United States, Canada and the U.K. and defines "midsized enterprise" as a business with less than $1 billion in annual revenue. Most of the respondents were from companies in the $250-$500 million range. The margin of error is +/-2.4 percent, Info-Tech said.

Other findings:

  • Only 27 percent of respondents currently have Linux installed.
  • Almost half of respondents said they had "no interest" in Linux.
  • Of the companies where Linux is not already installed, 48 percent have no interest and an additional 15 percent are not sure.

To learn more about the results, I called Frank Koelsch, executive VP at Info-Tech. "Microsoft didnt pay for this," he responded to the obvious question. The survey is something the firm regularly conducts among its 25,000 clients.

Koelsch said the study points out the gap between large enterprises, which are already multiplatform, and the Microsoft-dominated midsized enterprises. The big IT shops like Linux because it allows them to consolidate multiple Unix platforms.

But, in the midsized companies, adding Linux would create a multiplatform company where a Microsoft-only shop existed previously. Koelsch said adding Linux at these companies could result in significant new expenses. These include additional staff needed to support the new Linux systems.

"Linux is free, but the support for it is not," Koelsch told me, adding that "unless there is a compelling reason" mid-sized shops are better off with Microsoft solutions, despite any shortcomings.

I asked Koelsch if he felt the survey might under-report the actual number of Linux installations, because of servers set up without managements knowledge. He said he doubted this, given that IT management in midsized companies tends to be very hands-on. Maybe so, but its still my guess there is a bit more Linux in companies than management is aware of.

We agreed that Linux is probably more common in small business than in the midsized enterprises Info-Tech surveyed. In small business, IT support may be provided by a very small internal staff or by an outside contractor able to use Linux as a money-saver for clients.

I know a number of small businesses—some very small—where an outside contractor installed a Linux mail server, for example, as an inexpensive way to meet a customer requirement. This is especially the case where customers dont need the calendar and address book functionality offered by Microsoft Exchange.

Koelschs study and my own observations suggest that Linux has two major markets: the large Unix consolidators and smaller, cash-strapped companies. Both groups save money thanks to Linux. For everyone else, Linux is barely on the radar.

My conclusion: In most of American business, the supposed competition between Microsoft and Linux just doesnt exist. And with good reason.

Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site, www.coursey.com.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.