LINUXWORLD - The death of Unix?

An underlying theme at this year's LinuxWorld conference is whether or not the stalwart Unix operating systems are still alive and kicking.

Not everyone believes so.

"Unix is dead," said Randy Mott, CIO and senior vice president of Dell Computer Corp., in a keynote address on Thursday.

Still, it is an argument that only recently is coming of age from a technology standpoint, and with the massive installed base of Unix systems, it is an area where those proclaiming Unix demise will have to make a solid case.

Mott's declaration, however, comes on the heels of a Goldman Sachs report issued earlier this month predicting that due to market demands and technical improvements Linux is poised to become the dominant operating system even in high-end datacenters and, in so doing, will have a greater impact on Unix than it does on Windows.

"As you think about the challenges here, it's really about the challenges with proprietary operating systems," Mott said. "Just as important is the [challenge with] proprietary hardware."

Analyst firm IDC, in Framingham, Mass, issued a report saying that Linux servers are ready to take on new roles with corporations, including hosting databases, as well as being application services for Web-enabled applications and acting as platforms for transaction applications.

There is little disputing that Linux has garnered considerable momentum, and a number of companies, large and small alike, brought forth new or updated products at the show designed to bolster Linux capabilities and presence at the enterprise level.

IBM Corp., for instance, issued a beta of a 64-bit version of its DB2 database for Linux and running on chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Red Hat Inc. introduced a systems management framework, while Computer Associates International Inc. announced the formation of an internal Linux technology group, as well as a raft of new products. UnitedLinux announced here on Wednesday a software developer's program intended to better equip ISVs with the resources to port, test, and create solutions backed by the Linux consortium.

The most obvious and immediate reason for IT shops to choose Linux over Unix is the upfront cost.

"The cost-savings opportunities are the name of the game. That is going to change the industry," said Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C.

Other immediate benefits that Linux has over Unix include the ability to tap into the open-source community for access to feature upgrades and security fixes. Furthermore, a stack of open-source technologies has loosely formed, known as LAMP and consisting of Linux as the operating system, the Apache Web server, MySQL database, and PHP programming language, that can compete on some levels with proprietary Unix-based stacks.

Some customers indeed are embracing Linux. Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., based in Burlington, N.J., has deployed Linux desktops, according to Mike Prince, CIO of Burlington Coat Factory. Prince explained that Linux has served the company well, but in specific, tightly locked-down scenarios.

Even still, not everyone agrees that Unix's time has come.

Sun Microsystems Inc., for instance, said here at the show that it is still supporting Solaris, its Unix operating system. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, in fact, said that the main competition for Linux comes not from Unix, but rather from Windows -- on both desktops and servers.

Sun, however, is staking its claim in both camps. The company also used LinuxWorld to announce that some of its products, including Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) application and directory servers, are now available on Linux.

"The idea that Linux obliterates Unix is dead wrong," said Jonathan Schwartz, vice president of software at Sun.

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