While most of the world's companies run their businesses on one flavor of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system or another, there are an increasing number that are putting their trust in open source code, and Linux in particular.
According to International Data Corp. (IDC), the Linux operating system has made significant inroads in Singapore.
From a small base of about 1 percent of the total standard Intel architecture server (otherwise known as the PC server) market in 1999, Linux grew to 3.9 percent in 2000, and to 5.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.
"The total figure for 2001 is expected to be even higher than that," said Rajnish Arora, manager, servers and workstations, IDC.
According to Arora, traditional companies implementing Internet and e-business strategies continue to create demand for Linux.
"Linux continues to be the preferred server operating platform for a large majority of Internet infrastructure applications such as e-mail, Web serving, and caching," he said. "Its popularity stems from the price/performance advantages compared to other server operating environments and the broad availability of Internet infrastructure applications on the Linux platform."
Also, well-known vendors like Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard (HP) have recently accelerated the open source movement by announcing new open source software initiatives.
Sun announced its fourth open source project -- its Grid Engine distributed computing software -- designed to allow large corporations and organizations to link hundreds to thousands of computers together in order to collaborate on large-scale computing projects, basically doing the work of a supercomputer.
This adds to Sun's three other open source projects: Open Office, an open source version of its desktop software suite StarOffice; JXTA, its peer-to-peer computing project; and NetBeans, a set of open source Java tools.
HP, meanwhile, has made the source code for software related to its CoolTown project available for download under the open source model. CoolTown is a development platform for so-called pervasive computing, where users can link all manner of computing devices with people and places via the Internet.
Such initiatives have made Linux more and more palatable.
In Singapore, institutions like Hwa Chong Junior College have used Linux for their daily tasks, such as e-mail, Web server, database, and file server, and saved the school from licensing costs. It had put in a lot of effort to ensure the smooth transition of migrating all the Netware servers to Linux, integrating the school's Windows desktops and making it transparent to the teachers and students.
The Institute of High Performance Computing has also installed Linux servers as part of its setup, and Lightspeed Technologies, a local Linux vendor, also uses the open source operating system internally for its operational activities.
However, one concern often echoed by users and vendors alike is whether Linux's capability can transcend its niche in Internet and development arenas to more traditional applications.
Ramdzan Minhat, IT specialist, enterprise server systems, IBM Singapore, is quick to dispel such concerns.
"Using Linux applications for businesses is getting more and more feasible," he said. "It is a cheaper option and at this stage when the economy is bad, there is all the more reason for companies to consider free applications."
Minhat noted that www.linux2order.com, one of many Web sites offering open source software for free downloads, have thousands of Linux applications including hundreds of office productivity software like spreadsheets, word processors, graphics, accounting, and other essential networking and communication utilities.
"By itself, Linux is a networking product, and you can add open source print servers, fax, messaging, and communications," said Minhat. "If you want a nice graphical user interface (GUI), you can have it as well. You can have a complete suite -- databases, servers, clients, and Web applications."
Kevin Tai, regional manager, Linux, IBM Singapore, notes that Web-based applications are the most popular.
"Within Singapore, for applications deployed on Linux servers, the biggest percentage is e-mail servers at 33 percent, followed by intranet/Internet servers at 22 percent, and Web servers at 21 percent," he said.
"Most of companies start with networking, Web applications, or messaging."
"All these are virtually free, and you only pay for support, if you want," Minhat added.
Beyond open source code, many software houses are developing their own proprietary software for the Linux platform.
IBM's Linux offerings include DB2 Universal Databases, WebSphere Application Server, and its MQSeries middleware. In fact, the company has readied its entire range of hardware -- from the Intel-based servers to mainframes -- for Linux.
"We are committed to run Linux on all architectures -- Intel, Z-series, AS/400, and RS/6000," said Minhat.
"While IDC's data shows Linux 100 percent deployed on Intel architecture last year, the balance of power will change this year since other platforms offer great value," added Tai.
Oracle, meanwhile, has anted up its almost its entire software portfolio on Linux. This includes Internet Application Server, Oracle 8i database, and its E-Business Suite 11i, which includes the vendor's ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) applications.
Others applications include SAP's MySAP.com ERP solution, while companies like Computer Associates and BMC Software have also added system management products to the fray.
However, these applications are not open source products, and hence not free.
"These are other proprietary applications which you pay for, but run on Linux," said Tai. "They are necessary revenue streams for the company."
Even though the applications are there, IDC notes that the take-up of enterprise level Linux applications is still not high.
"It appears that Linux continues to be predominantly deployed on the entry-level servers, which are the uni- and dual-processor capable," said Arora. "The only market where we have seen some Linux deployment activity in the enterprise segment -- that is the 4- and 8-way servers -- is Korea."
While open source software has yet to reach the heights of enterprise level software, it is strong in the markets it plays in.
"Software houses have a team of people developing their own proprietary code," said Tai. "But Linux is governed by an entire community. Instead of 2,000 people, there could be several hundred thousand looking at it through the Internet."
"With everyone looking, the quality of code is extremely high. If it is not up to standard, people will come up with something better," he added. "Major operating systems out there will crash very regularly, but Linux is completely reliable."
"In terms of features and functions, open source will have more," agreed Minhat. "For example, the networking suite on Linux is very broad, and has a full suite of FTP, networking tools, messaging, and collaboration tools."
While not every system implementation can be open source, the momentum is clearly with Linux.
"It is just that the mindset of the people is still not there in this part of the world," Minhat said.
Most popular office suites
1. Sun StarOffice 5.2
2. KDE Office 2.0
3. Applixware for Linux 4.4.2
4. Openoffice 613
5. Cybozu Office 3
Most popular databases
1. AbriaSoft -Lite 1.116
2. DBMaker for Linux 3.6
3. PostgreSQL 7.0.2
4. Address Book 1.2
5. MIMER for Linux 8.1.2D
The following factors are primarily responsible for fuelling the demand for Linux servers in Asia Pacific:
1. Internet and ebusiness Infrastructure expansion: Although the dot.com bubble has burst, a much bigger opportunity exists with the traditional brick and mortar businesses that continue to implement their e-business strategies.
2. Increasing Linux usage in the education segment in markets such as Australia, China, Korea and Singapore.
3. Strong government support to the open source movement in countries such as China and Korea.
4. The large installed base of Unix in Asia. Markets such as Australia, Korea and India that have a large installed base of Unix servers will begin to migrate some of their less compute intensive and lightweight applications to the Linux platform due to price/performance advantages.