Linux to push out business competitors

A new series of studies finds that not only is Linux strengthening its position in the business market, it is set to account for nearly a tenth of companies' IT spend next year

As Linux developers celebrate the tenth anniversary of their operating system development effort this month, new reports from IDC find that the GNU/Linux platform has gained a warm place in the wallets of IT managers in Europe and the US.

In a series of reports over the next six weeks, IDC will declare that Linux is well-positioned to continue gaining ground in businesses at the expense of other platforms. The company predicts that end-customer spending on Linux hardware, software, services and staffing will grow to 9 percent of companies' IT budgets in 2002, up from 3 percent in 1999.

"The willingness of an increasing number of decision-makers to look closely at Linux bodes well for its future and suggests increasing challenges for competitive platforms," said Scott McLarnon, study director and group vice president at IDC, in a statement.

Linux is seen as an alternative to proprietary operating systems, and has several advantages to offer for businesses: it is open-source, meaning that companies can tweak the code themselves, and it is inexpensive, since there are no licence fees to pay.

The studies found that 40 percent of the 800 decision makers surveyed in North America and Western Europe are actively using or piloting Linux, and that Linux unit replenishment rates were twice as high as those for Unix.

However, to assure the platform's success, vendors need to increase availability of Linux software and trained staff, McLarnon said. Traditionally, one of the factors giving established platforms such as Unix an advantage over Linux has been the availability of a wide range of tried-and-tested applications.

IDC's figures are likely to be controversial, as are many studies involving Linux. In June, for example, Gartner Group and IDC reported vastly different pictures of Linux's penetration into the server market. Gartner found that Linux accounted for just 8.6 percent of US server shipments for the third quarter of last year, while IDC insisted that Linux as a server operating system accounted for nearly one-third of the total market.

At that time, Microsoft, one of the sponsors of the Gartner Group study, said the figures proved that Linux is ultimately a "niche play". "While many users have bought Linux to try it out, a large number of those copies bought, downloaded and acquired were tested and then never actually used," said Doug Miller, Microsoft's director of competitive strategy for the Windows division of the Gartner study.

However, other factors are in Linux's favour. Large companies like IBM and Compaq have signed up to promote the operating system, with IBM promising to spend $1bn (£700m) on Linux projects this year. IBM recently stepped up its Linux push to include its iSeries line of servers.

A Microsoft spokesperson said it was difficult to comment on the report since the company has not seen it yet. However, she said "we believe it is important to have a healthy software industry where open source software and commercial software co-exist".

Interviews with IT managers in the UK show that Linux is gradually gaining respect in large companies, though it is still at an early phase of deployment.

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