All Grown Up

I'm fond of saying that Linux has moved from t-shirts and holey jeans to business suits. Now, I have more proof than just my own eyes. The May 6 issue of InformationWeek (http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020503S0009) includes the results of a survey of business users. Guess what? They love Linux.

I’m fond of saying that Linux has moved from t-shirts and holey jeans to business suits. Now, I have more proof than just my own eyes. The May 6 issue of InformationWeek (http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020503S0009) includes the results of a survey of business users. Guess what? They love Linux.

IBM Linux2

Of businesses running Linux sites, a whopping 84 percent were very happy with Linux and 15 percent were OK with it. A mere 1 percent didn’t like their Linux deployment. Folks, you can’t get that many people to agree that Mom and apple pie are good things.

Now, what they’re not so crazy about is support. Free support doesn’t cut it. Yes, I know most of you reading this column can code a device driver with your teeth and think man pages are better reading than the latest Tom Clancy novel, but there aren’t enough folks like you out there to keep the cubicles of companies filled up.

Unfortunately, the survey showed that they’re not all that crazy about the support they get when they pay for it either. Over half of the survey’s respondents (57 percent) were only somewhat satisfied. That’s not good enough.

This makes me think that there’s still room for companies that provide support for Linux (like Linuxcare before they branched into Linux development), and that Caldera’s announcement that it will provide support for all major Linux distributions was a good move. In addition, Caldera will be providing vendor-neutral Linux training and software management with its Volution system management program.

That’s for the best, because the survey also showed that the plurality of business Linux users are getting Linux straight from the vendors (44 percent), or downloading it (30 percent), but only 16 percent are getting it from resellers or integrators. Caldera’s main sales channel? Resellers and integrators.

Despite all the hype about IBM and Linux, a mere 8 percent of Linux users are currently getting it from the IBMs, HPs, and Suns of the world.

I’m sure that both the reseller channel and the big corporate iron vendors will start playing a larger role. Why? Because, as Bruce Perens, HP’s Senior Strategist for Linux and Open Source, says, “Everywhere I go I’m hearing about large Linux deployments. It’s past the point where businesses ask is Linux important, or when it will be ready; now, it’s how and when can we install it.”

That’s a big difference, and in part, Perens gives IBM’s ad campaign credit for it. CEOs who previously might not have known what operating system was on their desktop, much less on corporate servers, now know Linux, and are beginning to ask for it by name.

But, while we can get passionate about the pros and cons of Debian vs. Red Hat, CIOs don’t care about those issues. They just know they want Linux, and in the big-time business world that means they want official support, not HOW-TO files. And, they want it from a name they already trust.

Integrators and resellers who are making corporate support plays, like Caldera, Red Hat, and Linuxcare, should do well.

As for trust, we may all think of Red Hat as a household name — and as much as a Linux vendor can be, they are — but its brand recognition isn’t even close to the level of IBM, HP, or Sun.

Even now, Sun is sending confusing signals. While its abandonment of Solaris for Intel early this year and embrace of Linux on Cobalt RaQ and Qube might lead you to believe that Sun is finally getting the Linux religion (at least on the lower hardware end), they also show signs of not really being on the Linux bandwagon. The bottom line? Sun has always made money from selling expensive SPARC equipment, and Solaris on SPARC is still vital to that effort.

IBM and HP are another story. They’re embracing Linux and big business loves them both. HP’s political woes with the Compaq purchase may haunt them, but no system buyer is going to run into too much trouble buying HP servers running Linux either natively or as a virtual machine under HP-UX.

IBM? They’re IBM. They’re continuing to bring Linux to every platform in their family. By the time you read this, there should be production Linux running on pSeries (the RS/6000 platform), and iSeries (AS/400). And IBM’s doing well with its partners: Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE, and Turbolinux on Intel machines; Red Hat, SuSE, and Turbolinux on the zSeries (mainframes). By the end of 2003, I expect more Linux users to be running Linux on IBM hardware than on any other vendor’s equipment.

And, when that day comes, with IBM as the Linux platform of choice, Linux will have officially moved from hobby operating system to enterprise operating system.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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