Debate Will Focus on Linux vs. Linux

When the discussion comes around to Linux, it's often about Linux vs. Windows or NetWare, or another more established operating system. But what about Linux vs. Linux?

Attendees at next month's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo will get a chance to compare the Linux offerings and business strategies of five different vendors.

Representatives from the companies -- Caldera, SuSE, TurboLinux, VA Linux and Walnut Creek CDROM -- will attempt to highlight what separates them from the pack as well as poke holes in their competitors' offerings and strategies.

Red Hat, the leader in Linux market share, has declined to participate. "We think this distribution vs. distribution showdown format is counter-productive to the Linux community," a spokesperson says. "Instead of clarifying anything, it will only serve to confuse."

Some observers say the differences among Linux variants are typically minimal but that there are definite differences among companies' strategies. Some firms, such as VA Linux, emphasize their turnkey software/hardware offerings, while others, such as Caldera, are talking about everything from non-PC devices to e-commerce. Some vendors focus on servers while others are eyeing the desktop market.

The LinuxWorld panelists should be prepared to field questions on a variety of topics, including on the openness of their Linux distributions, their service and support offerings, and their skyrocketing stock prices.

Bruce Perens, an open-source software pioneer and president of Linux Capital Group in Berkeley, California, says that not all Linux packages are entirely open source. He'd like to hear the vendors explain what is and what isn't open source in their distributions. He'd also like to hear the vendors comment on how they are giving back to the open source community. As an example, he points to VA Linux providing Web hosting for open source projects.

Bill Claybrook, a research director at Aberdeen Group in Boston, says it will be interesting to hear how the companies plan to encourage independent software vendors to port their applications to Linux. "How will the Linux distributors work with the independent software vendors to provide them with a more suitable release cycle?" Claybrook asks. He says that new releases of Linux are issued much more frequently than new releases of most other operating systems, making it challenging for third-party developers to keep pace.

Linux vendors also need to clarify their efforts to deliver improved remote management technologies and support server clustering, Claybrook says.

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