Let’s talk about the big name Linux companies: IBM, Oracle, and Sun. Eh? What’s that you say? Those aren’t the top Linux companies? Think again.
Sure, Red Hat, Mandrake, Caldera, SuSE, et al. are still around, but take a closer look and I think you’ll find that it’s the big old companies that are calling the shots these days.
Take UnitedLinux, for example. On the surface, it’s a good idea. Heck, it’s a great idea. Caldera, Conectiva, SuSE, and Turbolinux joined together to create UnitedLinux, a single, global, uniform business server distribution of Linux.
UnitedLinux gets rid of a lot of duplication of effort. How many Linux distributions do we really need anyway? Independent software vendors (ISVs) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) love UnitedLinux because they can build business software and hardware for only two major Linuxes (Red Hat and UnitedLinux) and have the Linux business server market covered. And, who (outside of Caldera, Conectiva, SuSE, and TurboLinux) supported — and I’m told encouraged — this unification of Linux distributions? IBM, of course. Moreover, if you look at the ISVs who joined in the chorus of applause, you’ll find companies like Borland, Computer Associates, Progress, and SAP who are all very comfortable with IBM. Will UnitedLinux help its four charter members? You bet it will. But, if anything, UnitedLinux will probably help IBM’s and IBM’s ISV friends’ bottom lines even more.
On the other side, what do we see? We see Oracle getting buddy-buddy with Red Hat. Indeed, one of the first things developers noted as they started playing with Red Hat Advanced Server (RHAS) is that RHAS fits the Oracle9i DBMS and associated programs (like the Oracle9iAS application server) like a glove.
If that didn’t make you think, Red Hat then joined together with Oracle and Dell, their closest OEM partner, to announce Unbreakable Linux. In case you don’t follow the database business, Oracle’s been branding their flagship products as “Unbreakable” for some time now.
Sun, of course, has its own plans for Linux on Intel. Some people, and I’ve been one of them, have wondered just how serious Sun is about Linux anyway. Simon Phipps, Sun’s chief technology evangelist, tells me that Sun is dead serious about making a Linux that’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Solaris. Who knows, maybe Sun will join up with UnitedLinux. A Sun public relations specialist told me that while Sun isn’t jumping on the UnitedLinux bandwagon, Sun does “see that it has the potential to increase the adoption of Linux and grow the overall Unix-Linux market. We view this as potentially good for the industry and an effective competitor to Microsoft. Sun has good relationships with the four members of UnitedLinux and engages in communication with them on a variety of topics.”
But, then again, Sun always likes to either go its own way — Solaris — or dominate a technology like Java. Sun’s a fine team player, so long as they’re the team’s captain.
See a pattern here? I do. It’s clear that Linux companies can’t make it on Linux sales and service alone. Everyone loves Linux, but nobody really wants to pay for it. In the meantime, the ISVs and OEMs that aren’t joined at the hip to Microsoft really, really want Linux to make it.
The solution? The far bigger ISVs and OEMs will give the Linux companies the business they need to survive in return for the Linux firms letting them take more of the lead. A case in
point: Unbreakable Linux will, of course, ship with Oracle products. I’m willing to bet that when the first UnitedLinux distributions come out, each box will include a CD-ROM with IBM WebSphere and DB2.
And, Sun? They’ve already announced that Solaris 9 will be shipping with Sun’s Open Network Environment (ONE) Platform Edition, which will include both the Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application server and the Sun ONE Directory Server. Any resemblance between this packaging and Microsoft’s locking .NET and Active Directory into their servers is purely deliberate. Anyone care to take a side wager that Sun will include a similar package with Sun Linux?
Ironic isn’t it? The commercial success of Linux is tied not to the core developers’ work or small companies filled with free software believers, but instead to major software vendors.
This is no longer a matter of big business realizing the value of Linux. It’s a matter of big business taking over Linux. Pragmatist that I am, I have no problem with this. Linux is still free software, the GPL is still in place, and the technology world will be a better place with Linux running in big business. But, for those who took to Linux because they thought it was a social revolution as well as technological one, the party is over.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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