Linux snickers at Microsoft's victory declaration

Who is Microsoft fooling? Other than on the desktop, Linux is eating its lunch, and it's only going to get worse for Microsoft.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

My compadre Ed Bott does a fine job of digging under the surface of Microsoft's annual report to find that Microsoft no longer considers Linux a serious threat. Who does Microsoft think they're kidding?

Sure, on the desktop, it's a Windows world, but guess what Sherlock; the desktop is declining in importance. The mobile, server, Web and cloud worlds are where the twenty-teens' billionaires will come from, not the desktop. And, guess, who's already in all those spaces large and in charge? Yes, that's right, Linux.

Let's start from the top on where Linux beats Microsoft.


The mobile computing world is a dog-fight between Apple iOS and Google's Linux-based Android. Windows Phone 7 is much of a non-player on smartphone as Linux is on the conventional PC desktop. While Apple owns the high-end of smartphones, Android is cleaning up everywhere else.

Until recently, you could argue that nobody, but nobody, really sold tablets except for Apple. That argument doesn't hold water any more. Android now has 20% of the tablet market. I wonder, I really do, if that's why Apple launched its legal attack on the Samsung Galaxy Tab's design in Europe, Is Apple that insecure? Maybe.

Until the last few days, you might also have been concerned about how Google could fight off the endless legal challenges to Android. You need worry no more about that. Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility has given Google all the ammo it needs to win in the mobile patent wars.

Of course, it's always possible that another mobile operating system will win out. Like say HP's webOS, which is, ah, Linux based. Or, there's Intel MeeGo, which is, wow, what do you know, Linux based. You get the picture. One way or the other, tomorrow's mobile operating systems are likely to be Linux operating systems.

Servers and the Web

There are a lot of Windows Servers instances humming away in offices. It's hard to say exactly how many Linux servers are out there since you don't need to buy a Linux server, you can download one, or a hundred and one, for free. Sure, Red Hat, which primarily makes its money from its server offering, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), is well on its way to being the first billion dollar open-source company, but there are probably far more CentOS, openSUSE, Debian, etc, Linux servers quietly and invisibly running. We just don't know. What we can count though are Web servers.

According to Netcraft, Microsoft has only 15.86% of the Web server market in August 2011. Apache leads the pack with 65.18%. In third place, you'll find ngnix with 6.54% and Google takes last place with 4.38%. And what operating system are you most likely to find Apache, ngnix, and Google running on? Yes, you're right in one, it's Linux.

It's not just Web servers though. Supercomputers, the fastest of the fast, run Linux almost exclusively. Cutting edge computing platforms like IBM's Jeopardy champ Watson? Linux again. It's not just computing engineers that turn to Linux though. The world's major stock exchanges also run Linux. Once you're away from the desktop, you're living in a Linux world.

The Cloud

I was privileged to speak recently at a small cloud conference in my hometown of Asheville, NC. Two things surprised me there. First, how many new businesses were already actively using the cloud's scalability to create new business models and, second, how everyone was using Linux on their cloud businesses.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), the most popular of the public clouds, doesn't report on what operating system images people use on it, but The Cloud Market, does scan Amazon EC2 for operating system and other information. According to The Cloud Market's numbers, as of August 15th 2011, Ubuntu Linux had 38.4% of all images; that was followed by generic Linux with 31.5% and then Windows with 13.5%. After Windows, there were numerous other Linux variants. Adding it all up and we're left pretty much with Linux was being used by 86.1% of all cloud users.

So, victory over Linux Microsoft? I think not.

Indeed, even on the desktop, as we turn more and more to using Web browsers for everything, I see Linux winning out in the long run. You've had a great run Microsoft, and you'll still be a power for the rest of this decade, but victory? No, you're just sliding into a long decline and, at the end of it, Linux will still be behind the scenes running everyone's back-room services, their tablets, their phones, and, yes, even their Web browser-based PCs ala Google Chrome OS with Linux-powered clouds keeping it all going.

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