From Microsoft to Linux and back

This was going to be a column that delved into the psychological makeup of the many IT professionals who smell conspiracy whenever they encounter Microsoft.

This was going to be a column that delved into the psychological makeup of the many IT professionals who smell conspiracy whenever they encounter Microsoft.

The trigger was Bryan Dollery’s column on the subject of digital rights management (DRM). (See Digital rights and wrongs) The point that Microsoft’s DRM policy is a premptive strike against copyright violators in well made. But then the familiar paranoid rant pours out. No offence, Bryan: the rant’s familiar not because I’ve heard it from you before, but because so many others have given us variations on the same theme. (See Digital rights dominate 2002 awards.)

A close relative of mine has also long bent my ear on the (potential) depredations of the devils from Redmond, and a former Computerworld contributor once had a good go at them in a column that lambasted the whole corporate world. (See Being a corp means never having to say sorry). Potential is an important word in that last sentence since more often than not the outrage is for sins not yet committed. I’ll be the first to remind the world of Microsoft’s actual crimes – it’s a convicted monopolist – but lack commitment when it comes to passing sentence for what it hasn’t yet done.

This is undoubtedly a failing of mine and I should be having my head read. Rather than attempt any psychoanalysis -- painful for both me and you -- I've opted to summarise the highpoints of last month’s LinuxWorld in New York. That way only Microsoft suffers, but it’s big enough and ugly enough to withstand it.

Or is it? According to IBM, which used to occupy the industry villain spot now taken by Microsoft, a new computing era has been entered. IBM took the opportunity of LinuxWorld to parade a list of big outfits that have become Linux users, a formula it used at the same trade show in San Francisco last August. On that occasion Air New Zealand was one of 10 IBM Linux customers put on display. Today, the list is more than 4000 long, Big Blue claims, and includes such new additions as China Post, Unilever, Grohe and Banco do Brasil.

The new era is one in which Linux has come of age, according to IBM’s software group head, Steve Mills. Mills says the company is expecting worldwide Linux-related spending to grow at an average 35% a year through to 2006. IBM’s Linux revenue has passed $US1 billion (HP claims to have made $US2 billion last year), the much-ballyhoed amount the company said in 2000 that it would invest in Linux the following year. At that stage 1500 employees were doing Linux work; today the figure is 5000. While hardware sales were the initial main source of Linux revenue, middleware and services are today among the fastest growing spending categories, Mills says.

But IBM wasn’t the only Linux act in New York. Sun and Computer Associates also put on shows. Sun is progressively bringing out Linux versions of its Sun ONE components. So far Application Server 7 and Directory Server 5.1 are available, says software head Jonathan Schwartz, and its portal server, identity server, calendar server and messaging server will be available within the year.

Perhaps to distinguish itself from IBM, which was quicker to join the Linux bandwagon, Sun is throwing itself into a desktop Linux strategy, believing “the opportunity is on the desktop", according to Schwartz. "We continue to believe that Linux is going to drive a lot of new devices connecting to the web."

CA, later still than Sun, trumpeted its new-found Linux credentials in New York. It has formed a Linux group and invested in a metre-high stuffed penguin to keep the chief executive company in his big office. Brand managers will not only have to explain their strategies to Sanjay Kumar, but to the penguin as well, the group head says.

Joking aside, CA introduced a dozen Linux products at the show, and proclaimed itself ready to make Linux more pervasive and easier for customers to deploy.

Is Microsoft reeling? Twitching, maybe. It was at the show – its second appearance at LinuxWorld – and professes to be creating a community along Linux lines, the thing to which it attributes Linux’s success. And not to be outdone by IBM’s lists, Microsoft New Zealand has released its own – of .Net adopters. They include organisations like AgResearch, Lion Nathan, Villa Maria Estate, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Immigration Service. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Big Blue.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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