Does the future of Linux rest on an act of faith?

If you had seen me wandering around the Vatican last month you might have thought that I was just another escapee from the ASP...

If you had seen me wandering around the Vatican last month you might have thought that I was just another escapee from the ASP Europe conference in Rome looking for spiritual relief

Of course, the truth is that I was hot on the heels of news - that the Vatican's Web site is the last remaining sanctuary for Compaq's Tru64 Unix. A fact that may pass comment on the scalability of the Church, and whether it will be Linux or Windows 2000 that will next be chosen to deliver the "good news" from cyberspace.
Mind you, my Jesuit upbringing makes me a little uneasy imagining the crossed-keys of the Papal crest with a "Powered by Windows 2000 logo" underneath it. Compaq, it appears, needs a little help at the moment. According to new figures from the International Data Corporation, arch-rival Dell has taken the lead away from "Big C" in a nose-diving PC sector.
Total PC shipments worldwide were only up 2.8% over the past year, much lower than even Microsoft had predicted. This has cast a pall of despondency over an industry looking at rapidly climbing inventory levels.
Maybe this is the time for some enterprising character to set up a B2C server auction site involving the largest hardware players. After all, if you can do it for toasters why can't you do it for servers, particularly when the evidence shows that the market for new boxes is close to a stall. The big "if" at the moment seems to surround Linux, which has moved beyond bearded, sandalled evangelism and now has more orthodox prospects. Now that Compaq's Tru64 Unix is waiting for a place in the Vatican Museum alongside other great works of antiquity, rumour has it that a great deal of soul-searching is taking place on the subject of Linux.
IBM seems set to own the Linux space and Linux, with IBM's encouragement, looks likely to consolidate into a serious alternative to Windows on the server - as illustrated by Hewlett-Packard's aggressive launch of a fleet of new Internet server appliances.
Compaq, like most other hardware suppliers - with the exception perhaps of IBM and Sun - needs to think seriously about a future in a world of increasingly commoditised server appliances. It also has to question whether the tight relationship it has with Microsoft in pursuing the .net vision is preferable to agnosticism or, at the very least, platform neutrality in the operating systems space.
My own view is that increasingly open standards and the evolutionary direction of computing makes the emergence of a single dominant operating system much less likely than it was 10 years ago.
If that is right, then IBM may still have the last laugh through Linux, a decade after Microsoft pulled the rug out from underneath OS/2.

Simon Moores is chairman of the Research Group

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