Linux love threatens Microsoft

Linux is making serious headway in the enterprise -- at the expense of Windows.

Companies are increasingly turning to Linux rather than adopting Windows 2000 according to a report published this month by research firm IDC.

In its report, Windows Adoption Study, IDC found that of the 788 respondents made up of small, medium and large businesses across America and Canada, 13 percent of respondents use Linux rather than Microsoft or Unix operating systems. This growth was described as "amazing" following a similar survey in 1997 when Linux use was so negligible it did not warrant a mention.

The report says large organisations favour Linux, with 16.6 percent showing a preference for it. The open-source alternative to Windows has steadily been gaining ground, with high profile backers like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky believes cost is the all-important factor influencing the shift toward Linux. While a Unix or Microsoft license costs around $1,500 (£915), Linux costs next to nothing. Companies outsourcing to suppliers for new software are finding value added resellers and independent software vendors happy to package Linux as a solution. "Businesses are happy to pay money for a solution and the supplier is happy to pocket the money," Kusnetzky said. He denies this opens suppliers up to exploiting Linux: selling it, even if it is not the right solution. "If suppliers sell something that doesn't work, people are not going to come back," he said.

But price, or a lack of, isn't the only factor behind Linux love. Its flexibility, reliability and speed are important factors. "Linux allows you to have enormous computing power without having to purchase a super machine," Kusnetzky said. He also thinks Linux can provide an excellent solution for companies looking for a function-specific server or for companies which need the flexibility to modify code.

Kusnetzky believes the statistics may not tell the whole Linux story as many companies may not be aware of what operating system they have installed. "Linux may be hiding down in that 'I don't know' category. It is impossible to tell," he said. He is convinced if the survey was conducted in the UK, the figures for Linux adoption would be even higher. "In the UK, people are trying to do more with their computing resources for less money," he said.

One UK company already converted to Linux is insurance intermediary Hill House Hammond. Believed to be the first live Linux installation in the financial sector, the firm chose RedHat Linux over Windows NT for its 290 branch network servers because of the operating system's price and efficiency. "Linux has enabled us to equip them [local branches] with a high quality, high performance system that is cost effective," said IT director Neil Turner.

IBM spokeswoman Shan Sood thinks evaluating the penetration of Linux is proving a headache for research firms as it is often used side by side with Windows and other operating systems. She believes the IDC figures are conservative. "We would put the figures higher. IBM doesn't make investments in something unless they will get a return," she said.

Microsoft's Windows NT product manager Mark Tennant concedes Linux is a competitor but questions the IDC figures. "We look at it as competition but we are seeing a wide variance of figures from research firms," he said.

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