Extraordinary Linux goes on show

The extraordinary world of Linux will be on show in Auckland this week.

The extraordinary world of Linux will be on show in Auckland this week.

It’s an extraordinary world which New Zealand has had hardly a glimpse of until now. This first showing will be comparatively modest, but I’m betting that those who take the opportunity to have a look will want to delve further into it.

That opportunity will be at LinuxWorld, part of Computerworld Expo. Needless to say, it’s being staged by Computerworld publisher IDG. While new to New Zealand, LinuxWorld is well established on the US trade show circuit and typically generates great excitement. That means magicians and performers in alluring costumes (I’m looking for a politically sound way of describing “scantily clad women”) vying for the attention of the passing hordes of Linux lovers.

But it’s a function of New Zealand’s small size that a technology like Linux, while known and loved by a core of users, doesn’t cause the buzz that it does in the US. It should. Every New Zealander with a PC and a few gigabytes of spare hard drive space should have a copy; and they should download the 1800 or so free applications that run on it.

I make this recommendation with the benefit of never having seen Linux in operation. The closest I’ve come to it is to handle a shrink-wrapped Linux package sent to me by Corel, shortly before the Canadian software company fell on hard times. I placed the package on the shelf alongside all the other software that I’ve never had the inclination to unwrap.

If I’d opened up the box and attempted to install the OS, I suspect I’d be less ready to rave to you about the virtues of Linux. That’s because I’m bordering on being phobic about upsetting the delicate working balance of my PC. When it’s not working right -- as I’m sure it wouldn’t after my inexpert attempts at turning it into a dual-boot machine -- I fret and nag at IDG’s infinitely patient IT support crew to restore its – and my -- equilibrium.

So instead of basing this piece of Linux advocacy on any real-life experience, I base it on an “in-depth” discussion with IDG’s resident Linux-head, Doug Casement (who also happens to be the LinuxWorld organiser). In the space of about 90 seconds, Casement convinced me that the entire population of computer users should turn on to Linux. That in terms of stability, it was way ahead of any other OS you care to name (well, Windows, to be precise). That in terms of cost, it was an unbeatable bargain (“For about $140 you could equip every PC within IDG with an OS, networking software and every office application they need”). And that you could even buy blockbuster games titles for Linux.

Why aren’t we switching in droves?

In fact we are, kind of. According to market researcher International Data (IDC), Linux shipments are growing at a greater rate than Windows (Linux server shipments up 24% last year compared with server versions of Windows up 20%; Linux client shipments up 25% compared with Windows’ 8%). But given Windows’ overwhelming market dominance, Linux has a whole lot more growing to do. Even though its market share is negligible compared with Windows, analysts are saying it can’t be dismissed as a fad.

How negligible? Linux accounted for 2% of the client OS market last year; Windows had 92%.

When the researchers turn the crystal ball to the Asia-Pacific region, they pick 57% Linux server growth by 2004, with particular enthusiasm for the OS coming from ISPs. ISPs appear to like it for much the same reasons Casement does: it doesn’t cost much and it performs. If there were more people with Linux skills around, the ISPs (IDC interrogated 51 big ones from the region) would be adopting Linux at an even greater rate. Australians bought a quarter of the region’s Linux server licences in 1999; Compaq was the biggest Linux hardware supplier in the region, followed by IBM. Both those vendors will be showing their wares at LinuxWorld.

And wait, there’s more: the show also features a seminar at which local developer Asterisk will prove you can run your business on free Linux software; and marvel at the twisted trivia that pours out during the Linux Geek Bowl quiz. Go along, learn some Linux lore, tell your friends, and maybe, next time around, there’ll be scantily clad magicians as well.

Doesburg is Computerworld's editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.