The Linux inflection point

Remember when smoking was cool? Anyone who lived through the 1980s and '90s witnessed a remarkable transformation in attitudes about lighting up. After nearly four decades of health warnings, public service announcements, and rising lung cancer rates, the pendulum of public opinion swung suddenly and decisively against the hapless smoker.

Lighting up, once considered a right, became a privilege that was gradually banned from airplanes, offices, restaurants, and, in New York City this year, nearly all public spaces.

There wasn't any defining moment for this transition -- no government edict, no dramatic court victory, no jubilant press conference. Yet the change was as palpable as if there had been.

A similar transition will happen -- indeed, may be happening -- with Linux.

How can you detect the inflection point, the moment when Linux stops being a romantic underdog pitted against Microsoft's evil empire and becomes a routine, acceptable alternative for large installations? Is it when PeopleSoft relaunches its entire product line in Linux versions, as it did earlier this month? Or when IBM mainframes are forecast to stage a 7 percent sales advance this year -- amidst the worst tech recession in a quarter century -- partly on the strength of strong Linux solutions?

InfoWorld's Chad Dickerson, a long-time open source advocate, says Linux wins when it goes from "being remarkable to being important" -- in other words, when Linux is no longer cool.

For the first time, Dickerson notes, a larger share of new servers will be shipped with Linux this year (16 percent) than with Unix (14 percent). And that pendulum won't be swinging back: By 2006, according to projections by our sister company IDC, Linux will account for fully one new server in every four, versus roughly one in 10 that will use Unix.

It's no surprise that InfoWorld's CTO should be a Linux champion. This publication has long advocated practical open source solutions, not because they're politically correct but because they work. For example, Dickerson and his team converted the InfoWorld Web site to Linux servers earlier this year. Downtime during the first 60 days of operation? Zero. I had never seen stability like that in eight years of publishing on the Web.

Ironically, the Linux inflection point comes at a time when the dominant maker of proprietary operating systems -- Microsoft -- has just released its best OS ever, Windows Server 2003. But that's OK. Open source will never drive out proprietary systems entirely, they'll just put them on the defensive -- to the benefit of anyone who buys servers or server software.

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