Linux in 2001: The year of predicting dangerously?

2001 doesn't look like a banner year for Linux on the desktop - at least not at this point. Perhaps it is more plausible to say that it is a "Year of Managed Services" for Linux.

If 2000 was the year of Linux, what can 2001 possibly be christened?

In 2000, we saw the single largest corporate purchase of Linux, the biggest Linux clustering installation, the greatest gains for Linux vis-à-vis Windows and Unix, the largest number of Linux-made millionaires (and millionaires gone bust), not to mention the greatest number of news articles hyping Linux. Makes you wonder if there's anywhere for Linux to go but down!

Wait. Don't charbroil me, Linux lovers. I'm the first to acknowledge that the market forces are with you. Linux stock prices may be south of the border, but analysts' predictions for Linux's market share continue to defy gravity and head north.

What does that mean in terms of trends for the coming year?

Will 2001 be the year of the Linux desktop? Despite the GNOME and KDE organizations' best intentions, I'd say no.

There has been almost complete silence since Sun dropped its StarOffice office-suite source code off the side of the open-source cliff. And Corel is maintaining an official silence--at least until January--on how it plans to rid itself of its Linux desktop offering. Thus, 2001 doesn't look like a banner year for Linux on the desktop--at least not at this point.

Will the coming year be designated as the year of critical mass for Linux enterprise apps?

It's true that Linux is moving further and further up the ladder, in terms of where and how it's being deployed inside corporations. And with the imminent release of the 2.4 kernel, which is set to include data-center-style enhancements, like 32-CPU multiprocessing support, it's likely to find its way into more mission-critical settings.

But, while enterprise-application porting is happening, again it's a little too early to pop the cork on this one.

When I asked Stacey Quandt, Linux analyst at Giga Information Group, for her two cents, she proposed that 2001 be designated the "Year of Managed Services" for Linux.

Hmmmm. It's plausible, although hardly sexy. Kind of like calling 1984 (and 1985, 1986, 1987... who's counting?) the "Year of the LAN."

But Quandt's got a point. When she is talking "managed services," Quandt's talking about the kind of software-update services provided by Eazel via its Nautilus environment to Dell Linux desktops; by service provider LinuxCare; and by Red Hat, with its Red Hat Network service for deploying and managing open source platforms.

Maybe Quandt is onto something. While leading high-tech companies--like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and Sun--are tripping over one another to claim they provide better/faster/cheaper software-as-a-service platforms, I haven't heard a single Linux vendor make such boasts. Yet the managed Linux services from Eazel and Red Hat are poised to deliver some, though not all, of the kind of Web services that the proprietary companies have outlined.

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