Stats Watch: A snapshot of the Linux bogey

There's little doubt Microsoft is a mite perturbed by the bogey that is Linux. Even if only half the stories about special fighting funds and disinformation campaigns are true, it's apparent the movement toward open source licensing and collective bug fixing has Redmond spooked.

There’s little doubt Microsoft is a mite perturbed by the bogey that is Linux. Even if only half the stories about special fighting funds, disinformation campaigns and helping SCO battle IBM’s Linux strategy have a few milligrammes of truth, it’s apparent the movement toward open source licensing and collective bug fixing has Redmond spooked. But should it? Is Linux really entering the enterprise that quickly, and what’s happening to the rest of the OSes?

Well now. In desktop and mobile operating systems Microsoft really has no peer (no pun intended). Lion’s share? Hell, it’s got the whole pride covered at 90% of over 2800 Asia-Pacific organisations surveyed (IDC, March 2003). In servers it’s a little different, and a lot more complex. IDC says 50% of servers in the region, including New Zealand, operate on Windows, making it brand numero uno. The same survey found that 6% of installed servers in the organisations queried operate on Linux.

So far, so believeable, but as we all know, larger organisations use a variety of operating systems for a variety of jobs. Any survey about OS use will add up to percentages way above 100%. For example, Fairfax Business Research found similarly that on average 6.6% of New Zealand organisations use Linux as a host/server OS, including 12.1% of large organisations surveyed (communications and community services being earliest adopters). Some 60.4% overall report using NT and 38.3% use Windows 2000. Just over 31% use some form of Unix. Interestingly, 15.5% still use a Novell OS. But there’s an elephant in the server room — despite the exhaustive choice in categories, 8.9% say they use “other” (24.1% in large enterprises). Among the proprietary midrange and mainframe OSes could be unidentified varieties of open source OS.

If you’re measuring growth in OS use on servers, Linux leads hands-down in the Asia-Pacific. IDC says Linux usage will grow 24% in 2003 compared to the previous year, while Windows usage will increase by 6% and Unix by 9% (NetWare to grow 3%). Impressive for the new kid on the block, though given that IDC sees much growth coming from greater IT spending in China and its neighbours and that the installed Windows base is huge and still growing 6%, I wouldn’t dump my Microsoft stock just yet.

Keep in mind that the server market will achieve a compound annual growth rate of 3% over the next five years, at least according to IDC last September, major drivers being Linux hardware sales tripling to $US6.5 billion in 2006 and Microsoft-based server platforms increasing by nearly $US5 billion to $US19 billion.

As for client operating systems, IDC sees Windows growing 4% year on year and — that elephant again — “other OSes” 5%, though it clarifies that Linux usage on the desktop and laptops will remain low.

Windows proponents say Linux is taking server market share from Unix more than Windows; Linux proponents counter that more Linux developers used to develop for Microsoft than used to develop for Unix.

Microsoft appears right to be concerned about the elephant, if it turns out to be Linux on the server: the number of applications for Linux is growing at 65% a year according to one estimate. Linux on the desktop, however, is a battle for future ideologues.

OS sceptics should email Broatch.

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