Buying the open-source operating system is no longer a question of cheaper licensing, says Graham Taylor.
If you believe the analysts and read the computer trade press, 2002 was the year Linux entered the mainstream. But 2003 looks set to see it penetrate even further into the business market.
According to IDC, Linux has already won 13.7% of the $50bn (£32bn) server market, and it predicts the open source system will have a 25% share by 2006, giving it the number two slot. Both IBM and HP reported $1bn-plus sales last year, and major organisations are now publicly committing to Linux for business-critical applications. I suspect the analysts are being too cautious in their forecasts.
Linux has not increased its use within organisations, but the real insight comes from businesses' massively increased confidence in its use and clear evidence that they are now into the detailed implementation planning for mainstream roll-out.
Cost reductions are now being measured across the total cost of ownership, not just in software licences, and real questions are being asked of the supplier community in terms of support, skills availability, change management, integration with current proprietary systems, and the due diligence process.
Today we see the majority of Linux systems being sold to support the existing infrastructure. Frequently this can be achieved without cross-organisation retraining, so some of the earlier concerns do not apply. The total cost of ownership benefits are real, and to quote one user, "It's a no-brainer."
But where next? Will Linux jump to the desktop? Will it support mission-critical applications, and what about its use for in-house development?
The jigsaw of pieces is coming together, some areas faster than others. We are seeing the majority of major application companies now porting, and in some cases developing, on Linux. Products to replace Microsoft Exchange for mail and messaging have become common, and even the desktop is starting to come under attack.
Backed up by anecdotal comments from users, I believe this coming year will see a flood of major Linux use, not just a succession of pilots, interesting though these are. It will be the business issues that dominate the debate. So will this be the year for Linux? There can be no doubt the race is well and truly on, and I would put it as a 5/4 on favourite.
What's your view?
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Graham Taylor is the director of the Open Forum foundation.