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It's been a short ride, but if investment-banking house SG Cowen & Co is to be believed, then the North American Linux market has stopped growing.

The number of corporate first-time users of Linux has dropped for the first time in two years, according to an SG Cowen survey.

Just seven per cent of companies currently without Linux servers plan to adopt Linux during the next year, compared to between 12 per cent and 17 per cent when SG Cowen began tracking in 2003. SG Cowen surveyed 500 organizations.

The numbers appear to reinforce an earlier, separate Evans Data Corp survey of developers. Forty per cent of developers plan to write applications for Linux during the next 12 months compared to 48 per cent who were polled during the same Spring period last year, according to EDC.

Both sets of numbers come as surprise in light of recent data that indicates Linux is alive and growing. During the first three months of 2005, Linux server factory revenue exceeded $1bn for the second sequential quarter, growing 35.2 per cent, according to IDC. Linux accounted for 10.3 per cent of overall quarterly server revenue.

IDC has attributed the growing pace of uptake to deployments of Linux in high-performance computing and enterprise environments, spanning IT infrastructure and web infrastructure, collaboration, decision support and business processing.

Many - including Linux's arch rival Microsoft - believe Linux is taking business from Unix, enabling it to move beyond the IT periphery of file and print servers where it started life in many businesses. While IDC said Unix server revenue grew healthily during the first quarter, it grew less than Linux - increasing just 2.7 per cent to $5.2bn.

SG Cowen's figures could be taken to read that the great switch from Unix to Linux is slowing down, as companies either complete their move or double down on Unix.

One could explain SG Cowen's findings by noting that Linux has moved beyond its early adopter status, making it difficult to find organizations for its survey who aren't already running Linux somewhere in their infrastructure.

Meanwhile, IDC believes there is a fresh opportunity for Linux to consolidate its presence, this time on the desktop. IDC is reportedly preparing to announce that Linux's PC market share hit 2.3 per cent in 2003, overtaking Apple Computer's Mac, and will go on to take six per cent of the desktop market by 2007.

IDC's numbers would appear to be at variance with the commonly held view that desktop Linux would be slow burner. ®

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