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Linux's Brilliant Business Career

Linux's Brilliant Business Career

If businesses are looking at installing more Linux systems and fewer Windows systems, "this suggests that Linux is being chosen for strategic infrastructure and development of internal applications, while Windows servers are more likely to be the subject of consolidation," said Chris Travers, who works of the LedgerSMB project. "This suggests that Windows is no longer seen as the strategic choice in this area."

By Katherine Noyes
10/18/10 5:00 AM PT

Fans of FOSS already know that Linux is one of the best technologies out there for business servers, but it's always nice to see that point of view validated by good, hard data.

Thanks to a recent survey by the Linux Foundation, that's just what we got last week. A new report from the group found, in fact, that large businesses have very big plans for our favorite operating system.

Not only will they be buying more Linux servers than Windows servers in the coming years -- they'll also be using Linux for an increasing number of mission-critical tasks in their organizations, the report found. And a full 36 percent are even using Linux on the desktop!

Any of that sound surprising? Not really -- but that doesn't mean Linux bloggers couldn't find plenty to argue about.

'It Is a No-Brainer'

"Great ! That means the last decade I spent learning about Linux as an enthusiast will now translate into job security," wrote kronoscornelius on a PCWorld blog, for instance.

"Linux can save thousands on license fees and provide better security," opined chatins on CNET. "It is a no-brainer."

On the other hand: "Um.... is it really any surprise at all that a report about Linux by a Linux group would determine that Linux was the best product with runaway growth?" asked fudbuster77. "Does anyone really believe Ford when they say that Fords are the top vehicle choice worldwide and will have explosive growth as proven by a study paid for by Ford?"

Now, the Linux Foundation admitted itself that its sampling was far from unbiased. Either way, though, the resulting tale seems to be coming as music to many aficionados' ears.

'I Think It Is Significant'

"It's great to see that people who use Linux in the first place are happy enough to use more of it," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl. "I would be worried if that were not the case."

Of course, "a survey of general computer users rather than just Linux users would have been a lot more useful, since this gives us a rather limited picture of the computing market," Mack added.

"I'm not surprised, but I think it is significant," opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

'Windows Is No Longer the Strategic Choice'

"As Linux skills have become more commonplace, it's going to do better in large businesses," Travers explained. "The general sense of stability and security help somewhat, but the larger issue is about the applications running on the server."

The major reasons to deploy Windows servers today include "the ease of integrating into an Active Directory environment for things like file servers, the ability to run Microsoft SQL Server, the ability to run Microsoft Exchange, and the ability to design web applications that re-use components developed for desktop applications," he noted. But, "as time is going on, many of these are becoming less important in terms of driving needs of businesses."

If businesses are looking at installing more Linux systems and fewer Windows systems, "this suggests that Linux is being chosen for strategic infrastructure and development of internal applications, while Windows servers are more likely to be the subject of consolidation," Travers concluded. "This suggests that Windows is no longer seen as the strategic choice in this area."

'You Can Prove Anything You Want'

Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson, who goes by "Tom" on the site, wasn't convinced.

"As much as I love linux, this survey proves less than nothing," Hudson asserted. "When you're starting off with a small install base, you can pretty much only go up."

The statistics are also easily manipulable, Hudson pointed out.

"What if 100 percent each adds ONE Linux server, and 10 percent each add 1,000 Windows servers?" she asked. "We could say that 100 percent planned to increase Linux deployments while only 10 percent planned to increase Windows deployments, yet it would be a clear win for Windows.

"As every politician knows, you can 'prove' anything you want by asking the right questions," Hudson said. "Of course, the real issue is that Microsoft makes its money from two cash cows: desktop OS + Office."

Why Not the Desktop?

The desktop, indeed, is where many bloggers focused their attention.

"This is good news for Linux, but it is almost non-news for Linux," Slashdot blogger yagu told Linux Girl. "Businesses (smart ones, anyway) know Linux is great reliable technology and is one less thing a business need worry about day to day -- Linux will be the workhorse in the back room every day, 24x7, no complaints, just solid performance at a great price."

That said, however, "it continues to be a metaphoric thorn in my side that businesses take the low road for desktop, as I've pointed out in a recent column," yagu added. "If Linux is that good to earn top billing in so many companies' server farms, why aren't businesses burning a few calories ramping up what is potentially the same ROI for Linux Desktop in their offices? I'm just saying."

'It Will Have to Be a Showdown'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet could think of plenty of reasons.

"I have NO doubt Linux will make gains in the server room," he began. "It is cheap to own and operate, there are tons of guys that get paid big bux to manage them, and finally Linus and the other kernel developers are being paid by server companies to ensure that is what Linux is... a SERVER product."

For Microsoft, however, "it's the desktop where the big checks come from, and frankly Linux is doing lousy there," he asserted.

"Ultimately, I believe it will have to be a showdown between the kernel developers and desktop distros over performance, which if we are lucky will result with the desktop distros forking the kernel AWAY from Linus and the other server developers," hairyfeet concluded. "Because as we can plainly see, by basing the kernel on throughput and throughput alone, the desktop experience ends up poor."

'Divide and Conquer Works'

Blogger Robert Pogson, however, saw it differently.

"Big business loves GNU/Linux servers because they love the uptime, freedom from malware, low cost and high performance," Pogson said. "What puzzles me is that they have not adopted GNU/Linux on the desktop sooner."

Pretty much the only valid reason "not to use GNU/Linux on the desktop is the lack of suitable applications," Pogson noted, and that's an area where "divide and conquer works," he suggested.

'They Can Get Off the Wintel Treadmill'

"Some big businesses have not realized that they can demand suppliers produce the software they want for GNU/Linux," he explained. "Instead of paying licensing fees, a big business or a consortium of them can hire programmers and make whatever software they want on whatever platform."

GNU/Linux is the least expensive of those, he pointed out.

"Instead, they have been paying M$ five times the value of the licenses and getting all the flaws that M$ creates," Pogson concluded. "Now, with the increasing number of web applications, businesses are slowly realizing that they can get off the Wintel treadmill."


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