Comdex Spring: Linux - OS in search of standards

Linux bigwigs predicted Tuesday that the alternative operating system would hit the desktop and embedded systems markets soon, but lamented that a lack of standards was keeping some applications developers from adopting the platform.

CEOs and founders of some of the largest Linux companies crammed into a tiny room holding only 100 at Spring Comdex to talk about Linux' future. But they soon moved to a much larger hall to accommodate the 250 or so people who showed up. Many attendees were Linux supporters who were trying to sell the OS to their superiors within their own companies.

Meanwhile, Linux leaders such as Red Hat Inc. CEO Bob Young, Caldera CEO Ransom Love and VA Research CEO Larry Augustin congratulated themselves on Linux' success. "It's pretty clear that Linux will pass NT this year and become the No. 1 server OS," Augustin predicted, speaking as Microsoft employees were touting the future of the competing Windows 2000 next door.

Love said Linux was ideal for network appliances because it's small, cheap and ideal for remotely managing machines -- he also predicted an explosion of embedded systems devices. "Linux will be the future operating system of NC devices," he said. "It will be the future OS of network appliances." But Love said he's talked to software developers who are reluctant to jump to Linux because they fear it will fragment. "We've got to do more than rely on open source for standards," he said. "We've got to actively promote them."

At one point, one attendee asked Red Hat specifically what the company's plans were regarding standards. Red Hat has come under fire over a new certification program that teaches information technology workers about its version of Linux. But Young downplayed concerns that the company would somehow thwart Linux standards. "It's clearly not in our interest to put the steering wheel on one side of the car when everyone else puts the accelerator on the other side," he said.

Jeff Carr, the founder of Linux PPC, called the Linux standards base -- a move to provide common standards for Linux distributions -- "a crucial and critical movement." Carr also predicted his company, which packages Linux for Apple computers, would focus more on the desktop than the server in the future.

But he said first Linux companies must make the OS easier to use. "At this point Linux is nowhere as easy to use as MacOS or Windows for novices," he said. The speakers also said demand for Linux had skyrocketed among corporate customers in recent months.

Augustin said more than 60 percent of his business was now corporate. Love said corporate customers make up about 85-90 percent of Caldera's Linux business. He said about six months ago, most of the company's Linux business, about 67 percent, was Linux developers and enthusiasts. "The demographic is changing dramatically," he said.

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