Move to Linux flattening, says Microsoft NZ

Movement towards open source is beginning to slow down, suggests Microsoft New Zealand's platform strategy manager, Brett Roberts. He claims some local customers are returning to Windows after tasting a Linux-based environment.

Open-source vendors have plucked the "low-hanging fruit", he says -- much of which came from the Unix market rather than Windows -- and are having a comparatively hard job making further inroads into the proprietary software market.

He cites US research company S G Cowen which, in a bulletin last month in its "non-consensus idea" series, rebuts the "consensus" among investment advisers of continuing growth in Linux use.

"We believe Linux is beginning to bump into constraints that will cause growth to slow and limit its inroads into the Microsoft Windows installed base," Cowen says. "We point to two key pieces of evidence. First, Linux subscriptions have been slowing down over recent quarters for the two leading distributors, Red Hat and Novell. Second, the June 2005 SG Cowen Core Technology [survey] shows site penetration of Linux slowing down and workloads growing more slowly for Linux than for Windows.

To be clear, we expect Linux usage to rise further as its capabilities steadily improve," Cowen says."But until Linux and the open-source community deliver a complete and coordinated stack of software for building, deploying and managing information systems, Unix will remain viable for many systems and Windows has little to fear."

Much of the capability that comes "out of the box" with Microsoft systems software, for example authentication on a server, must be painstakingly built up from developments by various members of the open-source community, says Roberts. It can be time-consuming even to track down sources of the right components, he says. "We've done that work and you can get it all from one source."

To back up his claim, Roberts points to companies such as baggage handling equipment maker Glidepath, which has returned to the Windows fold after experimenting with open source.

Figures provided by industry monitor IDC New Zealand, however, are inconclusive. Quarterly statistics for local server sales show a decline in Linux business around the end of 2003, but also a fall-off of new business for Windows Server starting somewhat later. Other factors may be muddying any evidence of a change in the head-to-head competitive situation.

Gartner, however, sees no slowdown in the adoption of open-source products in the Asia-Pacific region. "On the contrary, we're seeing a greater adoption as the products mature," says analyst Dion Wiggins.

He cautions that there are some inaccurate figures being passed around. China is not a big Linux user as often alleged, he says; the figures are distorted by the invisibility of pirated Microsoft software.

"The features of open-source products such as OpenOffice and MySQL are becoming stronger and lending them more appeal," Wiggins says. OpenOffice is now much more Microsoft Office-compatible than it was, and MySQL has added stored procedures, which some proprietary database systems still lack, he says. Apache continues to hold its dominant share of the Web server market, and 30% of Java developers use the Eclipse IDE, he adds.

New Zealand Open Source Society head Peter Harrison says he hasn't seen a slowdown in Linux adoption - "certainly not in the server market". The desktop market for Linux is softer, he acknowledges, but it's important not to see open source as synonymous with Linux. The success of OpenOffice and the Firefox browser are significant testimony to the continuing appeal of open source for the multitudes of small users, he says.

Open-source software for a straightforward file- and-print-sharing network could be assembled without difficulty, Harrison says, and there are a number of companies such as his own, Nothing But Net, that will put together such systems if help is needed.

Open-source solutions for more complex functions such as authentication and directory management will be most easily obtained from committed large companies, IBM or Novell, and will, naturally, come with a cost attached. Some users, he acknowledges, experience a momentary shock when they realize that if they have complex needs they will not get everything for free. The open-source movement needs to tackle that false expectation, Harrison says, but again he disputes that it could have led to a slowdown in the market.

If there are any statistics giving a surface indication of a drift back to Microsoft, these may still be misleading, Harrison suggests. "Microsoft uses shipments as a measure. We buy blank boxes and install Linux ourselves," he said, noting such sales may not show up in market surveys as open-source shipments.

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