The powerful allure of Linux

Whether they're hardware makers, desktop application makers, database makers or portals, companies across the technology industry have been clamouring to jump on the Linux bandwagon.

Some, such as Intel, are hedging their bets. The more operating systems the company supports, the more chips it can sell. Others, such as Infoseek are porting products to Linux based on customer demand.

"It's been a long time since we've seen a truly new OS on the scene," said Dora Futterman, director of marketing for Infoseek's software group. Futterman said about 13 percent of customers who download Infoseek software are using Linux machines. Still, she acknowledges it could take a while for the software to really catch fire. "Everyone's sort of waiting for everyone else to do it," she said.

A few are jumping right in. A year ago, a show with scope and marketing splash of the upcoming LinuxWorld Expo would have been unthinkable. Though Linux had strong support among the tech-savvy, most brand-name companies had yet to throw their hat in the ring in any major way. The biggest boost to Linux so far has been the pledge from Intel and Netscape to invest in Linux reseller Red Hat Inc. The move, unveiled in September, planted the seeds for closet users to come forward and neophytes to consider adopting it.

Netscape also threw its clout behind the open source movement six months before the Red Hat investment, by opening up the source code to its browser, a move that was followed by companies such as Sun Microsystems.

On the hardware side, Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics and Compaq have said some of their server computers will come with versions of Linux. Sun has said it will use Linux on its Ultra-Sparc-based machines. IBM also has struck deals with the major Linux resellers to include Linux on its machines.

On the database side, Oracle and Informix have made multiple plans surrounding Linux, partnering with the major Linux vendors to include their software in some packages. Applications makers Corel and Lotus Development Corp. also are promising ports of their software packages.

And there's more news to come. At the show, Silicon Graphics is planning a major announcement that will involve "embracing the open source community," according to a company spokesman. Infoseek. will port its Ultrasleek Server to Linux. VA Research said it will introduce as a partner an industry bigwig that hasn't been associated with Linux yet. And Hewlett-Packard will unveil details of its Open Source Software Operation, the company's efforts to make its hardware and software Linux-friendly. On Thursday, Intel beefed up its support, saying it would fund a plan to add support for its latest chips.