Hot skills: The open source operating system Linux offers growing job opportunities
What is it?
About 25% of enterprises will be running mission-critical business applications on the Linux open source operating system by 2009, according to a survey by Saugatuck Technology and BusinessWeek Research Services. By the end of 2007 the figure will be 18%.
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But this follows the revelation by IDC that after four years of double-digit growth, sales of Linux servers are slowing down. Although Linux servers now represent 11.8% of all server revenue, growth for the third quarter of 2006 was about 16% of that for the third quarter of 2005.
Hewlett-Packard sells the most Linux servers, but it is less actively committed to Linux than IBM and, latterly, Sun.
Linux has been ported to more machines than any other operating system and it is challenging Symbian for dominance of the smartphone market. Elsewhere, it is making inroads into embedded systems.
It is also being sold by Microsoft, after a deal with Novell, which finally acknowledges that users may want both Windows and Linux in their installations. Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse were among Microsoft’s first SuSE Linux customers.
Where did it originate?
In 1991, University of Helsinki student Linus Torvalds invited help with a free operating system kernel, based on Unix, which he described as “just a hobby, won’t be big and professional”. Torvalds wanted to call it Freax.
Linux was first taken up widely as a platform for the Apache web server. In 1999, Microsoft began taking it seriously, with the first of many sweeping attacks. By 2000, IBM was offering Linux across most of its servers.
What’s it for?
Linux is the foundation of the Lamp (Linux, Apache, MySQL/PostgreSQL, Perl/PHP/Python) development stack. Linux-based enterprise applications are also written in Java and C++. Although generally seen as an alternative to Microsoft, it can be used as a platform for C#, using the Mono version of .net.
What makes it special?
Linux is generally reliable and secure, without the architectural upheavals of proprietary operating systems. Although technically the operating system and support are free, the question of cost of ownership has been muddied by hired teams of analysts; Microsoft claims Windows is cheaper to own.
What is not in dispute is the value of the collaborative effort that has gone into Linux. A study of one Linux distribution found 55 million lines of code that would have cost a supplier £1bn to develop.
How difficult is it to master?
Like Unix before it, Linux appealed first to hardcore techies who made few concessions to the less knowledgeable. Linux distributions now come with all the user-friendly bells and whistles that can be expected with any mass-market operating system.
There are various Windows emulators, such as Wine, that enable you to continue to work with familiar Windows applications while migrating to Linux.
Where is it used?
As well as in the enterprise, on midrange systems and mainframes, Linux is favoured for supercomputers. But it has yet to make the long-forecast breakthrough onto the desktop.
What’s coming up?
2007 is predicted to be the year when Linux virtualisation projects bear fruit, enabling multiple virtual systems to run in a single physical location.
Paid-for Linux certification and training is available from Red Hat, IBM, Novell and other Linux suppliers and support companies. There are free online tutorials on many sites. More information at: www.linux.org
Rates of pay
Junior Linux systems administrators can earn £25,000 to £30,000, rising rapidly with experience.
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