Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/05/linux_in_2009/

Linux: this year's silver lining?

Watch out Windows and Solaris, says Zemlin

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in Operating Systems, 5th January 2009 19:27 GMT

With the new year under way and all of the problems in the old year still largely unsolved, people in the IT sector are looking around for a little good news and some prospects for growth. There are a lot of clouds out there right now, and Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, thinks the rain is going to be good, particularly for Linux.

"Even though 2008 was in recession, the Linux platform did well, and it is growing faster than other platforms," Zemlin told us during an interview.

"Linux definitely has critical mass, and you use Linux ten times a day and you don't even know it. So in 2009, we expect to see a bit of growth. It is not going to be a boom year for anybody, but at the end of the day, Linux is positioned to do well."

One of the interesting things - and some might say exceedingly optimistic - that Zemlin believes looking ahead is that Linux will outship Windows on new PCs in 2009. By PC, it should be noted, Zemlin means desktops, laptops, and netbooks.

The key word in that sentence is "new". Like many watching the PC business, Zemlin thinks 2009 will be a year when netbooks really take off, and Linux is doing well on these platforms. "Linux is taking share from Windows in this new playing field, and we think Linux will be the dominant platform for netbooks," explained Zemlin. He added that Microsoft has been forced to extend the life of Windows XP and move up the launch of Windows 7 as many consumers and corporations have ignored Windows Vista.

While Linux enthusiasts have been jonesing for more Linux share on desktops, if Microsoft sees Linux getting traction, it seems far more likely that Microsoft will drop the price of Windows XP and extend its support to maintain share.

Zemlin also seemed to be cheating a bit on the "Linux outships Windows" thing. He is including a quick-boot feature on laptops and netbooks that loads a baby Linux instance for instant web browsing, so in some cases a machine will have both Linux and Windows on the box.

The funny bit is that in many cases, a user will open up a machine and start browsing without loading Windows at all. So does the Windows really count?

As has been the case for nearly a decade, Sun Microsystems - but not its Solaris Unix - is a favorite target of the Linux community, and Zemlin pulls no punches in pronouncing a death sentence for Sun. "Sun is really exiting," he said.

"This is just too little, too late. The company did not recognize the need to change to the open-source/subscription model until it was too late. In the not-too-distant future, Red Hat is like to have a larger market capitalization than Sun."

Indeed. As we went to press, Red Hat had a $2.7bn market cap, compared to $3.1bn for Sun.

Zemlin sees the operating system market as a two-horse race: Linux versus Windows, because - for new application development - people want to code on platforms that have what they believe is a long and fruitful future.

No one in the Linux community, including Zemlin, is predicting that Solaris is going away. It is just a matter of where the new workloads are deployed and where they are not. "Look, there's still a lot of NetWare out there," Zemlin said. "You see people migrate away and then a platform fades into the background. We know how this movie ends, even it is a long and painful one."

So Sun and its woes will benefit Linux, and while Zemlin expects some growth in the IBM AIX and Hewlett-Packard UX server space, it will be modest. The important thing is that right now, as far as the Linux Foundation is concerned, no other operating system is going to displace Linux on servers. So how long before Linux is the dominant operating system on servers?

Rather than brush off the question as absurd - which it sort of is, given that Windows owns the server volumes and has dominant revenue market share in the server space unless you add Unix and Linux together - Zemlin answered it like it is a perfectly logical question.

"That will take years. These things just take many years." Unix techies will retire, applications will move as servers are retired, the attrition will be slow but steady. "The important thing to realize is that this trend is irreversible. It will happen, even if it doesn't happen overnight."

The Linux Foundation also has high hopes for services-style computing, which has the moniker "cloud computing" these days but has gone by many names over the decades.

Zemlin was one of the founders of an application service provider called Corio that went public in 2000 and that was subsequently acquired by IBM. He said the economics of IT hardware and software killed the ASP idea back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but that the open-source software stack makes so-called cloud computing possible now.

"In a down economy, if you are a small startup, you are not going to buy any hardware or software," Zemlin explained, adding that people will buy compute and storage capacity on clouds. "Then, if you are successful, you can lever it up. But the key is to be able to keep capital costs low at the start."

This was still expensive back in the 1990s. You had to buy Sparc servers, BEA middleware, Oracle databases, then add the applications on top of that. "Our economics at Corio were very difficult. Now, companies can offer capacity at a much more compelling price, and a large part of that is that Linux is priced to sell. Think about it: would Google be Google if it ran on Microsoft Windows? Google is Google because it runs on customized Linux."

Bootnote

In a separate announcement, the Linux Foundation has named Ted Ts'o, the lead developer of the future ext4 file system for Linux as well as the first Linux kernel developer from North America, as it's chief technology officer.

Ts'o has been a fellow at the Linux Foundation since December 2007 - a position held by Linus Torvalds, Andrew Morton, Andrew Tridgell, and Steve Hemminger. He takes over the CTO position from Markus Rex, who had been on loan for 18 months from commercial Linux distributor Novell as CTO in the wake of the departure of Ian Murdock.

Murdock, who is one of the co-creators of the Debian variant of Linux, jumped to Sun in the summer of 2007 to head up its open-source community efforts and was the first CTO of the Linux Foundation. The foundation is, of course, the result of the merger of the Free Standards Group and Open Systems Development Labs in January 2007, and it has some pull with the open source community but does not explicitly steer code development.

Developers do that through the meritocracy that is open source, and the CTO is an interface between the vendor-backed Linux Foundation and that community.

Rex, by the way, has returned to Novell to take over as general manager and senior vice president in charge of Novell's Open Platform Solutions group, which is mostly SUSE Linux. Roger Levy, who had been general manager at the Open Platform Solutions group, has made a lateral move as Novell's senior vice president of strategic development, and will be responsible for developing the company's cross business unit strategy. Both Rex and Levy report to Jeff Jaffe, Novell's executive vice president for products and its chief technology officer. ®