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Linux at 17 - What Windows promised to be

You can't stop the port

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

That is why Linux is the most fully supported operating system, in terms of architectures, in the history of computing. (The open source BSD Unixes do a pretty good job covering platforms, so a tip of the hat there). And the coverage that Linux offers is not just broad, but deep. There are so many different Linux projects, each doing their own part to get it running on different iron - often for personal, not economic, reasons.

If being open source helped establish Linux in academia - where students could play around with the guts of the code as well as learn open systems software concepts derived from the many flavors of Unix - it is the breadth and depth of support that has given Linux a home in the data center. The lower price tag for commercial support compared to proprietary and Unix alternatives didn't hurt the commercialization of Linux either.

From 1994, with the release of the Linux 1.0 kernel, up through now, with the development of Linux 2.6.27 kernel, Linux has grown as an operating system, moving from a desktop toy to a system that can span the largest SMP servers in the world as well as becoming the de facto standard for parallel supercomputing, knocking Unix completely off its throne in less than a decade.

It took a while for Linux to get scalability and performance, but get there it did, and with the commercialized variants of Linux available from Red Hat and Novell, Linux is - and has been for a few years now - an absolutely safe choice. No one is going to get fired for buying Linux in the data center.

Linux Is Nice. But Benedictix is Better

But Linux does have its challenges. Growth for Linux servers has stalled, and this is because the paradigm for computing that is represented by Unix and Linux is unknown to many people, particularly small and medium businesses that adopt Windows reflectively. They go with what they know on their desktops, which is why Windows, not Linux, has dominant revenue share and most of the shipment share for server sales, quarter after quarter. Linux has grown to represent about a fifth of the revenue base, which is quite an accomplishment, but Linux has really only partially filled in the gap as Unix declined and Windows ascended.

In the past decade, Linux adoption was hampered by technical and support issues -it didn't scale and commercial-grade support took a while to bring to market. But in the next decade, the issues facing Linux are more cultural and inertial. It will take a tremendous force - perhaps a global recession or depression - to make companies think about learning Linux and investing in the technology rather than go with what feels like the safe choice of using Windows.

With the bulk of applications in the world certified to run on Windows, and Microsoft having some 800,000 partners, momentum is clearly with Windows. But with Linux on the desktop getting to be more practical with every passing year and with Microsoft contemplating a non-Windows future with its Project Midori operating system, Linux may yet get a shot at the title for operating system heavyweight. One this is for sure: There is no other contender for the title, no matter how much Sun Microsystems believes in OpenSolaris.

One last thing: Linux might have been the obvious name for the operating system, but Benedictix would have been more accurate. ®

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