Outlook 2007: Linux and Open Source

News Analysis: Next year will be a big one for Linux, with new platforms and opportunities in the data center.

In the year to come, we expect to see Linux maintain its torrid development pace, with major new enterprise releases from Red Hat, which is set to ship RHEL 5 in January, and Novell, which will also ship an update to its Open Enterprise Server early next year.

Whats more, we expect to see one or two new releases from each of the all-free leading-edge distributions we track—including Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE—along with new developments from the swelling horde of smaller Linux flavors, in both commercial and noncommercial quarters.

Among all these new Linux releases, there will be no shortage of new and improved functionality for platform devotees to consume, but, since Linux remains somewhat of an outsider among operating system platforms, whats most worth watching for in 2007 are the new deployment routes along which the platform will wend its way toward greater market share.

The fortunes of Linux look brightest in the data center, where, having already proved its worth, the platform is set to build on its successes and ride the growing popularity of server virtualization to greater prominence.

We expect the open-source Xen virtualization project to grow more mature during the next year, thanks in part to the inclusion of Xen and a suite of attractive-looking Xen management tools in RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 5.

Were looking forward to seeing the follow-on release to XenSources Xen product. We expect to see broader guest operating system support, including support for Windows guests.

Also, VMware will continue the push it began in earnest in 2006 toward encouraging ISVs to distribute their wares as virtual appliances. Linux is uniquely well-suited to the appliance approach, since its easy to pare Linux down to only those components required to host an application and since ISVs neednt kick back licensing fees to any operating system provider to distribute their applications in this way.

Weve been impressed so far with the tools that rPath has built for enabling ISVs and others to assemble maintainable, Linux-based software appliances and output them in ready-to-run VMware and Xen formats.

Finally, on the server front, well be keeping an eye on the performance of Oracle as a brand-new Linux distributor.

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Much more interesting, we hope, will be 2007s vendor activities surrounding desktop Linux.

While Linux is well-positioned featurewise to give Windows a run for its money in 2007, what the platform still lacks is the sort of OEM support model that Windows enjoys.

Its nearly impossible to buy a PC without a bundled Windows license, which makes Windows effectively free for most buyers and erodes the Linux price advantage.

In addition, Microsofts practically exclusive relationships with PC OEMs ensure that vendor efforts to provide working drivers remain trained almost solely on Windows.

Linux distributions have grown quite good during the past few years at making their way onto PCs without the help of OEMs.

For instance, the LiveCD options available with most recent Linux distributions offer a great way to test for hardware compatibility without permanently altering systems. Linux machines are much simpler to install over the network than Windows or OS X, and the fact that the Linux kernel project maintains so many drivers itself means that if a particular piece of hardware works at all, itll work right out of the box.

Still, companies considering Linux on their desktops need vendors, such as regional resellers, to connect the dots for them: to test and certify PCs and notebooks themselves and, in places, develop the fixes needed to make it all run properly.

Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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