US Report: Linux builds momentum

Linux -- a freeware version of Unix -- has become a remarkable phenomenon in recent years, although it's been around since 1991.

Programmers worldwide are adding to the platform on a constant basis by submitting proposed changes to Linux distributors or directly to the program's original author, Linus Torvalds. The platform is basically the largest collaborative programming effort ever, and it's gaining rapidly in popularity, with more than 7 million users. By some accounts, Linux is the fastest-growing Unix platform. In conjunction with the recent Comdex Enterprise trade show in San Francisco, Intel and Oracle made several announcements regarding Linux.

Intel is planning to release its 64-bit Merced chip by the summer of 1999; in addition to supporting Windows NT, Merced will support Linux, according to Sunil Saxena, head of Intel's Microcomputer Software Labs. A consortium of engineers from Hewlett-Packard and Intel are designing the Merced chip. (In addition to Linux and Windows NT, Merced will support HP's 64-bit Unix operating system.) Linux and Windows NT are both targeted to come out in 64-bit versions.

Intel's Saxena also confirmed that Intel will build its Wired for Management features (currently available for Windows users) into Linux. IT managers use Wired for Management to automate the management and diagnosis of systems and peripherals on corporate networks, keeping users from having to perform the same tasks and administrators from having to manage systems one by one. Linux has been sorely missing automated management features. Saxena confirmed that Intel's own engineers are enthusiastic users of Linux.

There were also several developments on the Linux front from Oracle. The company has formed technology and marketing partnerships with four software developers building software for Linux: Pacific High Tech, Red Hat Software, SuSE, and VA Research. Oracle is developing Linux-compatible versions of the database Oracle 8 and its applications. The Oracle 8 version for Linux will ship in late 1998, and Oracle's applications for Linux will ship as 1999 begins. Both offerings are designed for Linux on Intel platforms.

Intel and Oracle aren't the only companies sitting up and taking notice of Linux's growing popularity. At the recent Seybold conference in San Francisco, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the Redmond giant is paying careful attention to Linux' adoption rate. "Sure, we're worried," he said, although he emphasised that customers care more about the total cost of a project than they do about getting software for free.