Gartner slams Linux with hostile review

A damning report from Gartner has all but put the kiss of death on Linux, but devotees of the OS maintain it's a force to be reckoned with.

"Linux is the 'hype du jour' that is thought by some to have the potential to upset Microsoft's dominance on the mainstream desktop," the Gartner Group report says.

"We believe Linux deployments for desktops will not usurp OS dominance from Microsoft.

"The lack of standards in the Linux community, coupled with a lack of key productivity applications and with Unix complexity, will continue to make Linux a poor choice for the mainstream business productivity user.

"Linux will continue to appeal to its devotees and, as it improves over time, to broader audiences," the report concluded.

However, Anthony Rumble, managing director of Unix and Linux consultancy Emusys, says his business doubles its Linux sales every few months.

Linux's popularity, Rumble says, is due to user disillusionment with "traditional" operating systems, namely Microsoft's Windows NT platform.

"There's a lack of control with other traditional operating systems, and Linux gives them the opportunity to fix that," Rumble said. "Linux gives the users some degree of control.

"It's also replacing traditional PC-based operating systems, such as SCO," Rumble said.

SCO was not available for comment, but according to Microsoft, Linux has not affected sales of Windows NT.

"The areas that Linux is doing well in are fairly limited," said Tony Wilkinson, Microsoft's Windows product manager.

"What we're seeing is it's having some success in fairly defined areas, such as education, technical environments and some ISPs," Wilkinson said.

IDC figures show Linux comprised just 3.5 per cent of PC server shipments last year.

"The NT market is so huge and powerful, it could drop a few thousand seats and Microsoft wouldn't notice," said IDC senior analyst John Blair.

Blair says Linux's main attraction is its price. While the operating system is generally not free at an enterprise level, it costs substantially less than any of the commercial Unix flavours or NT, he said.

"Most enterprises will go to one of the top three or four suppliers [Red Hat, Turbo Linux, SuSe and Caldera]," Blair said. "The cost depends on the size of usage and how keen they [the supplier] are to penetrate the market."

Most Linux users are people who don't want to use Microsoft's products, Blair said. That means the OS most likely to suffer because of Linux's success is Unix, he says. Most commercial Unix vendors have put on a brave face, but they have all made commitments to varying degrees to open source code and indeed Linux.

Dennis Fairweather, product sales operations manager at Sun Microsystems, says the company is "philosophically" in support of the Linux movement. Sun's Sparc servers support the operating system, he said.

Earlier this month, Sun opened the source coded of its Unix version, Solaris, in a "community source licence".

"People are always attracted to open, free software," Fairweather said. "I think there was a bit of frustration with users paying heavily for certain operating systems," he said, alluding to user dissatisfaction with Microsoft.

Linux's popularity among Unix users due to "no reflections or disillusions with Solaris", Fairweather said.

"I don't see Linux as a result of a negative reaction to Solaris," Fairweather said.

Hewlett-Packard, another large Unix supplier, says Linux has not affected its marketshare.

"Linux specifically plays in the lower end of the market and would only affect those OSes that rely or most strongly have marketshare in that low end of the market," a spokesperson said.

HP said "it is not ready for mission-critical heavy database and transaction serving functionality".

Linux's major disadvantage in the enterprise space is that there are very few currently applications available for it. Furthermore, "Linux does not have the robustness built in it yet for mission critical applications," the HP spokespersons aid.

HP says other inhibitors to Linux's growth include general industry mistrust of freeware, difficulty in installing and configuring it, lack of scalability beyond four processors and the scalability of its development and support model.

Footnote: Notable Linux zealot and IDG Webmaster Travis Simon responds to the Gartner report today in Auug daily News. Click below for the details.

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