Jury still out on Linux legacy

Jury still out on Linux legacy

Doug Michels

Panelists discuss whether OS is a revolutionary tool or a footnote to Unix

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Will Linux be a major player or a quaint footnote in the history of enterprise computing?

No answer emerged out of a June 14 panel discussion in Washington among representatives of three leading Unix vendors. Linux, the open-source Unix kernel developed primarily for Intel platforms, might have its greatest impact on the enterprise in terms of innovative open-source software development methods, said moderator Michael Dortch, an analyst with the Robert Frances Group of San Francisco.

Dortch asked the panelists: What would induce a chief information officer who has been using Unix for years to consider Linux?

Jon A. Hall, executive director of Linux International of Amherst, N.H., rapidly ticked off the advantages of Linux. It is available at low or no cost, he said, and it has matured faster than any other operating system he has seen.

Quick change

Bug fixes for the Linux kernel often are posted on the Internet within hours of an alert, Hall said. Whenever kernel changes are released, tens of thousands of users quickly download them. Hall suggested this rapid-response model of software development would be useful even for developers of proprietary applications.

Because Linux works like other flavors of Unix, it serves as a useful training ground for programmers and future systems administrators, he said.

One argument against Linux has been the lack of well-documented statistics comparing its performance against Unix systems, Hall said.

But the advent of new benchmarks will help Linux users find the bottlenecks and fix them, he predicted.

Panelist Tamar Newberger, product marketing director for Santa Cruz Operation Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif., called Linux a 'great, wonderful, starry-eyed operating system for people who want to play around with open source.'

But she said it lacks the strength and support for enterprise computing.

Asked by Dortch how to make the enterprise world safe for Linux, Newberger said established vendors must seek clear feedback from users and carefully articulate the direction in which they are taking future versions of their products.

Speaking after the Linux-Unix debate, Doug Michels, SCO's chief executive officer, said he has a very mixed attitude toward Linux. He said the open-source Unix clone is at least a big footnote in the history of Unix evolution but does not constitute a revolution.

Michels said the basic principles of open-source software development have existed among Unix users for years before Linux.

More than maker

Panelist Jonathan Prial, IBM Corp.'s director of integrated solutions and Linux marketing, predicted that Linux will evolve rapidly into an environment for running enterprise applications, not just developing them.

Linux and Apache open-source Hypertext Transfer Protocol software have already cornered the market on non-Microsoft Windows server platforms, Prial said.

'The technology is there today, and there isn't any reason why it can't be deployed in certain applications already,' he said.

'We think Linux can grow into the enterprise and possibly even begin to thrive,' Prial said.

Enterprise decision-makers must consider not only the initial costs of systems but also the needed skills, reliability, degree of central control and applications, Prial said.

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