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MS still owns desktop, but Linux gains at server end

And according to MS figures, Linux outsold Win2k server last year...

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What a week for Microsoft. The legal process starts to win the trial for the company, God's surgical earthquake strike on Bill Gates misses, and according to the IDC numbers just out the Windows world domination campaign is still going swimmingly - or is it?

Anybody who says you can't argue with a 92 per cent market share clearly hasn't met The Register. That number is Microsoft's share of the desktop OS market for 2000, and it represents a 3 per cent improvement over the previous year. Only Windows and Linux grew their share (Linux to a whole 2 per cent), so the victim de jour on the client side would appear to be Apple, and Microsoft's share of the cake was so big to start with it's now almost entirely competing with itself (strange but true - searching desperately for competition for his trial testimony, MS exec Paul Maritz actually did propose Microsoft as one).

But, one might observe, it's not competing with itself terribly well. Win98 and SE shipments grew substantially, largely cannibalising Win95, which finally began to fade away. This could have been a matter of market choice, just a consequence of how increasingly difficult Microsoft has made it to get hold of older operating systems, or a bit of both. WinME can't really figure in the numbers as it wasn't out for enough of the year, and IDC doesn't break out the numbers for Win2k on either client or server side.

That doesn't really give us enough data to judge whether either of the two latest products is making it as a client, but you can see how difficult it's going to get for Microsoft. Whistler is intended to obsolete Win2k, WinME and 98 (which still has a kind of tolerated existence as a corporate client option) when it ships later this year, so we'll be able to check how successful Microsoft was in discouraging people from buying them in two years time, when the 2001 numbers are out. But it'll have to do better than it did with 95.

As Microsoft doesn't actually own all of the server market yet, the numbers here are more interesting, and the various factors to take into account more numerous. Again, only Windows and Linux grew numbers, hitting 41 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, but we still seem to be talking largely about the commodity server market here. Unix was down to 14 per cent from 17 per cent, and Novell slipped 2 points to 17 per cent, but money still oozes out of Sun's every corporate pore, the message of this being that the Unix players who're succeeding are selling fewer but bigger boxes for nice big wads of dollars. When this ceases to be the case, we'll know that Microsoft is finally starting to claw its way up from commodity servers.

Play with the numbers a little, add together Linux and Unix (as disgruntled geeks complained should have been the case when the Q3 2000 numbers came out) and you get 41 per cent. This means a neck-and-neck situation between Microsoft's amalgamated server operating systems and the collection of server operating systems you might suggest were rather like one another, but only if you wanted flamemail from 57 varieties of insurgent. It's not a particularly meaningful calculation to make, given that the saving of Unix seems to be big systems, and this more and more leaves Linux as the obvious challenger in the commodity area, eyeball to eyeball with Microsoft.

Is it meaningful that Linux clearly outsold Win2k server? If it happens again in 2001 it certainly will be, but once more the internal Microsoft competition is the more interesting matter to consider for 2000. IDC doesn't give separate figures for NT and Win2k, but Microsoft helpfully gave us a pointer by claiming Win2k server would shift a million copies by the end of February. This gives us less than a million for calendar 2000, out of total MS server shipments of 2.5 million, against Linux shipments in the server market of 1.6 million.

So NT is proving a difficult one to shift, as you might expect, and Linux was the top server OS in 2000, with NT second and Win2k third. It's quite plausible that Linux shipped twice as many copies as Win2k server. Now, if we were proper journalists round here we'd have put that in the first par. ®

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