Holding out for a (Linux) hero

commentary Sixty years ago, Alfred Kinsey turned an academic research interest into fuel for a cultural revolution after extensive research revealed what was really going on behind America's closed bedroom doors. These days, revolution is all about Linux.

commentary Sixty years ago, Alfred Kinsey turned an academic research interest into fuel for a cultural revolution after extensive research revealed what was really going on behind America's closed bedroom doors.

These days, revolution is all about Linux. The word alone has become a catchcry for everything anti-establishment, anti-Bill, anti-licensing fees. If you listen to the hype, it's being used everywhere, in businesses of all sizes, to do everything but make the coffee.

Just because everybody's using Linux, however, doesn't mean everybody's happy for that fact to be known, as I found recently while looking for potential candidates for a series of profiles about companies that had made the switch between Windows and Linux, and vice versa.

Based on the ongoing enthusiasm about Linux, I presumed it would be simple to find companies just busting to tell how they'd ditched their Microsoft server software and moved onto Linux servers. Everybody's doing it, after all, aren't they?

Not exactly. Despite numerous enquiries with Linux integrators, discussions with Linux-heavy vendors including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and Novell, heavy Web research, and perusing the usual channels for potential candidates, I wasn't able to find more than one big company willing to share their experience migrating from Windows to Linux.

That doesn't mean nobody has done it -- only that they weren't happy to talk about what they've done. However, this startling conclusion led me to wonder just why it was so hard to get anybody to come out of the closet. The answer I did get -- from a person who is well acquainted with the reasons behind these things -- was perhaps as surprising as Kinsey's own research: "They may be doing it, but they're scared to talk about it", he said.

Many companies, it appears, are concerned that Linux is still seen as high-risk, and don't want their move away from Windows advertised in case things go pear-shaped. Others see Linux as a competitive weapon and don't want their rivals knowing how they've cut their costs -- or that they've taken a promising yet risky migration path.

The biggest reason, however, was something of a surprise: the reference companies the vendors could offer were all companies that had migrated to Linux not from Windows -- but from Sun Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX or any of a dozen other versions of Unix. Yes -- Unix, not Windows.

For these companies, Linux represents just another iteration in the Unix story -- and therefore poses commensurately low risk compared with making a complete jump from Windows. Linux for them is effectively little more than an infrastructure modernisation play -- and not a philosophical statement. Everyone may like to complain about Microsoft, but Windows Server is still an inescapable fact of life for most.

This conclusion is backed by IDC's February server market figures, which showed shipments of Linux servers growing 20.8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2005 compared with a year earlier, to be worth US$5.7 billion for the year. Windows server shipments were lower, at 4.7 percent growth for the quarter and annualised revenues of US$17.7 billion -- nudging out Unix systems, which shrank 5.9 percent for the quarter and notched up US$17.5 billion in revenues for 2005, from first place for the first time ever.

Pull back the covers, so to speak, and -- just as Kinsey found -- the truth seems far removed from accepted beliefs. These figures suggest that Linux's gains are actually coming at the expense of Unix -- and not Microsoft, as the histrionic Linux faithful seem to assume. Perhaps, we must consider, Microsoft has far less reason to be perturbed by Linux than everyone thinks.

We want to know what's going on behind your closed doors. Have you moved from Windows to Linux? Happy to tell us your dirty little secret? Drop us a line at edit@zdnet.com.au and let us know. We'd love to count you in.

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