A tale of two markets

In August, Caldera International Inc. held a major event to declare that its new name would be The SCO Group. According to some folks in attendance, many resellers were overjoyed with the announcement. They could once again promote the SCO name in their marketplace. Rather than working with a Linux company that sells Unix, they were now working with a Unix company that sells Linux. And they loved it.

Is this change an indictment of Linux's failure in the marketplace? Is Unix the real winner after all? Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, this illustrates a fact that few people have bothered to enunciate: The Linux market is not the Unix market. Despite the fact that Linux and Unix have a strong overlap in technologies, the Unix market is just a small subset of the Linux market.

Consider that many of Caldera's partners were garnered from its SCO assets acquired last year. These are Unix resellers, happy to live by the rules of their familiar, well defined Unix market.

But the Linux market is much wider. Despite statistics claiming that Linux is winning more business from Unix than from Windows, Linux is actually competing in areas that Unix abandoned years ago. Companies that have long forsaken Unix have been implementing Linux servers of all sorts. Organizations that once disposed of all Unix workstations are now earnestly evaluating Linux desktop systems. And consumers who would never have thought to run Unix at home are purchasing Linux PCs from Walmart.com.

Why? Because the Unix rut of vendor incompatibility, expensive proprietary hardware, and stagnant user interfaces has been replaced with wide portability, commodity hardware, and progressive desktops.

The Unix market is all about what was. The Linux market is all about what will be.

As a result, Linux is expanding into places where Unix can't go. IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky was recently quoted as saying that Linux desktops now outnumber Macintoshes worldwide by nearly a 4-to-3 ratio. And governments the world over are actively debating whether open-source platforms such as Linux should become their standard platform.

In fact, even though Unix has clearly lost some market share to Linux, its overall market share is undoubtedly larger now than if Linux had never entered the picture. Remember that in the mid-1990s, analysts insisted that Unix would be dead by now. But the rise of Linux reinvigorated the Unix market. By borrowing innovative open-source technologies, Unix was able to fan the embers back into a steady flame.

In the '90s, people used to call Linux a "Unix-like" operating system. But now Unix is flourishing because of its "Linuxlike" qualities. What was that line from Star Wars again? "When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master."

Indeed. Remember that when you buy that Linux-based TiVo Inc., Zaurus, or mainframe.

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