TECH TALK: Linux World: Linux World

Last week, I attended Linux World in New York for 2 days. This week’s columns explore my observations on what I saw (and didn’t see) and where Linux is headed.

That Linux is making headway in the enterprise is clear. This was best captured in a statement made by Sanjay Kumar, CEO of Computer Associates in his keynote, “In 2000, out of the top 100 corporates I spoke to, only 5 expressed interest in Linux. The same number in 2001 was 50.” Of course, interest does not mean deployment. But interest is a precursor. And on that front, Linux is on all radar screens. Besides Sanjay Kumar, one of the other keynote speakers was Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP. There was also a senior executive from IBM. All the big computer companies (except Microsoft, of course) had a presence at the show.

In the big corporates of the world, the interest in Linux is strong in two segments. First, the ability to use commodity Intel-based hardware to run open source software bringing down the cost of computing and achieving “freedom” from proprietary, locked-in architectures. This means Linux-based servers gets deployed for email, firewalls, file and print serving, proxy and caching, and for databases. Second, in an interesting twist, running Linux on mainframes to consolidate various servers, reduce space and the administrators needed for their management.

The other space where Linux is attracting interest is in embedded systems: PDAs (Sharp had a buzz-attracting and hot-selling – at least among the ones who attended – Linux PDA, the Zaurus), cellphones, appliances, in automobiles, and so on. This is a world which from an operating system point of view is one which Microsoft does not dominate, and thus is open to other options. Where Linux is missing is the Desktop – that is a Windows hegemony, at least in the developed economies.

Linux is very interesting both as a product and as a development model, and that is why it bears a closer look. It is a product with zero price. The product is given away for free – downloadable from the Internet. So, for companies wanting to make money, services (installation, support, customisation, training) have to be the revenue generators. As a development model, it is unique: thousands of developers worldwide contribute freely to the open source movement, ensuring that innovation is rapid. Linux is a shining example of “emergence” – the collective intelligence is greater than the sum of the parts. Of course, this distributed approach to development also gives the impression that there is no one in charge, that Linux has no “godfather”. This is changing as the big companies like IBM and HP invest money promoting Linux.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.