A gradual warming of relations between the Unix and Linux communities is spawning a new front in the war between Unix and Windows NT.
As the standards for the Linux platform continue to solidify, the number of major systems providers considering support for the platform increases, making it clear that there is major industry support developing for the nascent open-source operating system.
On the standards front, Linux International, an association of vendors that add services, support, training, and software value to Linux, is close to making a decision about a common Linux code. The forthcoming standard is expected to be presented to the Open Group, which certifies different flavors of Unix, in the hopes of obtaining Unix branding for Linux.
"[IT managers] are saying that they have to talk [about] class libraries to their CEOs, and that's a problem," said Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera, a Linux provider in Orem, Utah. "A reference platform to approach [a standards body such as] the Open Group is needed."
Sources said Sun is also having internal discussions about providing Solaris APIs that allow Solaris applications to run on Linux. But complex questions remain because Sun markets Solaris for Intel, which competes directly with Linux. Sun would benefit greatly by the adoption of Linux in the midrange market because Linux also runs well on low-end 64-bit Sun Sparc servers, according to one industry expert.
Meanwhile, even Hewlett-Packard, which has an existing NT alliance with Microsoft, is weighing its Linux options.
"We do see Linux fitting into our product line," said Dan Glessner, director of marketing for Hewlett-Packard's 9000 Unix servers, in Cupertino, Calif. "We are evaluating a port of Linux to PA-RISC. But Linux would never get close to the capabilities of HP-UX."
In general, users like the performance and cost of Linux.
"[Linux is] already having success in the workgroup server space and could challenge Novell and NT in the file and print server space," said Robert Berger, president of Internet Bandwidth Development, a consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif.
SCO Unix and Microsoft Windows NT may cost between US$4,000 and $5,000 for a basic enterprise server for 50 users, and the comparable Linux server may cost as little as $300, said Dan Kusnetzky, program director at International Data Corp., in Boston.
For its part, Intel recognizes a potential new hardware market based on Linux servers. It created the Uniform Driver Interface initiative to develop a common standard for device drivers written for Unix on Intel hardware. Sun, Compaq, HP, SCO, and Linux vendors are members of the group.
"[Linus is] getting popular and we want to make sure any operating system will work well on the Intel architecture," said an Intel source.
The upcoming release of the 64-bit Merced processor is motivating Intel to find a viable operating system for that platform. Linux already has 64-bit versions, while Microsoft is late on delivering Windows 2000, formerly named NT 5.0.
Although Microsoft officially recognized Linux as a competitor in its SEC filing this fall, the software giant's rhetoric remains patronizing.
"The greatest impact of Linux is the further cannibalization of the Unix marketplace," said Ed Muth, group product marketing manager for the enterprise at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.
(David Pendery, Bob Trott, Paul Krill, and Andy Santoni contributed to this article.)