The spotlight is shining on Linux, which has received pages and pages of positive press over the past year. Highlights include announcements of support from application vendors such as Netscape Communications, Informix and Sybase and enhanced offerings from Linux-specific vendors such as Caldera and Red Hat Software.
Indeed, 1998 "could probably be called the year of Linux. It became a market force to be dealt with," says George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Group in Stamford, Connecticut.
One of the key trends in the Linux market in 1998 was the vendor application support promised for it, which analysts say is building user confidence in Linux and opening up additional uses for the freeware operating system. "Oracle and Informix announcing some support was huge," says Bill Peterson, an analyst at IDC.
Up until 1998, Linux users turned to their peers on the Internet for support, Peterson says. Now vendors are taking on a support role. For instance, Red Hat introduced around-the-clock corporate support for Linux systems. Estimates circulating in the industry say there are now 7 million Linux users, a mixture of serious users and experimenters. "Most of Linux is running with Apache and running for serving up Web pages," Weiss says.
However, some users download Linux and don't use it, and not all Linux packages purchased from vendors are used on the server side, which makes it hard to track market numbers.
Looking ahead, Weiss says, Linux needs to prove it has staying power. He says there must be consistency from version to version, more availability and better continuity. He also says users want to know whether or not the product can scale.
"They need to know how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C without a massive disruption," Weiss says.
As for what Linux will be used for in the future, Weiss predicts, "There will be pockets of strength." There will be heavy usage in areas of infrastructure functionality such as Web servers and communication protocols -- areas where users don't really feel an operating system is a major component.
"It will be a block piece of layer infrastructure," he says.