Red Hat reports that its revenue and profits are up. Research firm International Data Corp. says Linux server shipments are up 63% from a year ago, and that server sales generated close to $1 billion during the last quarter. Novell invested millions in acquiring SuSE Linux AG and is banking its comeback, in large part, on enterprise Linux.
The numbers don't lie. At a bare minimum, they're affirmation that Linux is gaining stature as a mission-critical enterprise platform. Even the reality of the SCO Group's lawsuits against AutoZone Inc. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. don't seem to have scared enterprises off from pursuing their Linux and open source projects.
"We cannot have second thoughts about using Linux, as I had the great pleasure of converting our last Windows server to Linux a couple years ago," said Dan Smith, an administrator with the Intelligent Systems Lab at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "And in a year or two, [we] will be able to retire the last of our Sun [servers]. We could not provide one-third of the services and abilities we currently do if we did not use Linux as our primary operating system."
Patent fights, copyright infringement and intellectual property rights are topics the open source community likely never figured it would have to tangle with. Many believe that the SCO Group's multibillion-dollar lawsuit against IBM is specious. SCO filed the suit a year ago, alleging that Big Blue improperly donated System V Unix code to the Linux kernel. The elevation of these issues in the consciousness of the community, however, is not necessarily a negative.
Still, SCO is dissolving into a pariah in the software industry, and many see its business model as one of litigation.
"Linux is threatening to commercial software; it threatens to redefine the marketplace of commercial software," said Alex Zorach, a consultant with Sustainable Computing, in Cleveland. "However, anyone who knows anything about Linux and the GPL [General Public License] knows that SCO, or any company, can provide little, if any threat to Linux. SCO is trying to live by a double standard -- they claim that Linux contains stolen code, but they won't reveal what the code is, thus they are not giving Linux developers a chance to replace the 'offending' code. I can't imagine this would ever hold up in court."
Linux is holding up as a replacement for Unix and Windows. Expensive Solaris and HP-UX packages are being put to sleep as contracts come up for renewal. Windows, meanwhile, is falling victim to security concerns and expensive licenses. With Microsoft set to end support for NT at the end of this year, Redmond has a challenge on its hands, as it tries to migrate users to Windows Server 2003 and away from Linux.
"There is just not enough budget to use Windows," said the Johnson Space Center's Smith. "It cost an arm and a leg to equip a Windows machine with what is standard load on most major Linux distros."
Smith said Linux has much lower hardware demands, allowing his shop to preserve their investments. Then there's security.
"In terms of security and man-hours to keep the network up and running, Linux is invaluable," Smith said. "Patches in the Linux world both work and leave the machine fully functional. That has not been my experience in the Windows world, where on many occasions I've had to back out a patch to regain functionality and on at least a few occasions cratered a machine by applying a patch.
"In short, converting to Linux has allowed our lab to go from saying, 'Sorry, we do not have funding to provide that' to saying, 'We can do that.'"
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