Rosy prospects for the open source

I believe the Gartner Group and others are correct in anticipating strong growth for Linux as a middle tier platform during the next five years. But I believe Linux will also grow in a number of other interesting and useful ways.

          Three months may seem like a long period if measured in Internet time. We can usually predict fairly accurately the outcomes of our business strategies in three-month cycles.

          Yet we also need to keep an eye fixed on the long term and invest in those technologies that have the greatest likelihood of success.

          When it comes to Linux, the future looks bright indeed. The up-and-coming operating system has achieved substantial growth in record time. Now let's peek into the crystal ball and see where Linux will be in five years. Madame Maggie sees a much wider applicability for the operating system by 2005.

          Research firms such as Gartner Group continue to focus on Linux market share as a server platform. In a recent report it projects that by 2005, Linux, Unix, and Windows 2000 will account for 77% of the server market. More important, the report expects that the 77% will be split equally among the three.

          Each of these three server operating systems will need to address different issues to remain attractive for e-business strategies. For Linux in particular, symmetric multiprocessing support is needed to improve its scalability options. This support is planned for the next version of the Linux kernel, which is expected to arrive shortly.

          The open-source software development paradigm that is at the core of Linux development gives it a leg up on the others in growth and the speed with which new features can be added.

          Likewise, pricing and technical support options make Linux more attractive than the competing platforms.

          Yet two external things will help speed Linux's growth as a server platform. The first is partnerships with major industry companies, such as IBM and Oracle. The Linux-based product strategies of these companies will open up the appeal of the Linux platform to a much wider audience.

          Similarly, Linux server growth also will be fueled by the open-source paradigm itself. The open-source community is quickly coming forth with a wide array of business-related software solutions. Some of these include e-commerce suites, business intelligence tools, and application servers.

          Those considering adopting the platform will find that the amount of available business applications will grow significantly during the next five years.

          What's more, the open-source community is rapidly moving toward a model that leverages the open-source paradigm during development, while the resulting products are often implemented both as commercial and open-source applications. This will make open-source solutions viable for businesses that feel comfortable adopting only commercial solutions.

          I believe Gartner and others are correct in anticipating strong growth for Linux as a middle tier platform during the next five years. But I believe Linux will also grow in a number of other interesting and useful ways.

          I expect you'll see Linux run times implemented on a number of high-end enterprise servers and mainframe-class machines. This will make a much wider array of Web-related software available to sites that have these platforms installed. Run-time versions will extend the investment life of these high-end platforms, which will suit e-businesses.

          Linux will also continue its strong growth and maturity gains in clustered server-farm settings. It will become an attractive, cost-effective option for transaction processing and high availability during the next five years. Linux also will fuel a large number of custom solutions, such as hardware-based firewalls.

          Expect Linux to show up in other places, too. Wireless and embedded devices that run on Linux, including e-books and computing tablets, are already available, and that number will increase significantly during the next five years as the number and type of devices expands. Linux fits neatly in this space given its design and capabilities.

          I also expect Linux to show up in more server appliances as the adoption of these task-specific platforms increases. Moreover, Linux is an attractive option for service providers that will offer desktop applications, such as office suites, across the Web.

          Linux has to continue its evolution. The open-source development paradigm will take Linux far in the next five years. It is a technology investment well worth considering -- now and for the future.

          Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center. Send email to: Maggie Biggs.

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