Guilty Verdict Could Boost Linux Fortunes

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - With Microsoft Corp.'s future dominance of the software industry more than ever in doubt, some users are more willing to look at alternatives. Such as Linux.

An exclusive Computerworld poll found that 11 percent of corporations surveyed were more likely to consider other operating systems because of last week's verdict. Linux overwhelmingly was the alternative operating system mentioned most often, with 73 percent of the vote.

"In the future, it will be easier to sell non-Microsoft solutions to upper management," said Rocco Esposito, information technology director at window-shade maker Hunter Douglas Inc. in Broomfield, Colorado. Esposito currently uses Solaris and NetWare as well as Windows NT but has no plans for Linux.

Leading figures of the Linux world believe the rapid rise of Linux during the past two years has been aided by the Microsoft trial. "Without the trial, you would not have had the OEMs so openly embrace other platforms," said Ransom Love, president and CEO of Linux vendor Caldera Systems Inc. in Orem, Utah.

"Keeping Microsoft decent is allowing companies to offer our products to customers," agreed Bob Young, chairman and co-founder of Red Hat Inc., another Linux vendor, in Durham, North Carolina.

Despite the trial, "we have been adversely affected by fear, either perceived or real, of Microsoft retaliation," said Love. He said he believes last week's verdict will encourage more PC vendors to ship Linux systems.

Mike Prince, vice president and CIO of Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. in Burlington, New Jersey, is implementing thin clients based on Linux on the desktop. He said concerns about Microsoft's business practices and the proprietary nature of its software played a part in that decision. "We come from a mainframe environment, [and] developing a dependence on Microsoft technologies felt like going back to the mainframe era," said Prince.

That is a minority view, as Prince is quick to acknowledge. An overwhelming majority of users - 95 percent in the Computerworld survey - said the Microsoft verdict won't influence their reliance on Microsoft technologies.

Terry Stelzer, IT manager at Meritor Automotive in Troy, Mich., said that in a 10,000-desktop company, changes are hard to make. "We've heavily committed [to Microsoft products] with training and time and user skill sets, and Microsoft knows all this," said Stelzer.

Several Linux proponents said they believe court-imposed remedies could further help Linux. Young said the court should open Microsoft's source code to developers, which will improve interoperability between Windows and Linux. And Prince said a company breakup may result in a version of Office for Linux.

"At the very least, we are now operating on a more level playing field," said Young.

Other analysts agreed that Microsoft's loss could be Linux's gain.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Group Inc., said his research firm is advising customers to reduce their "lock-in" on Microsoft products wherever possible.

"They will lose market share, and they are expecting to lose market share," said Eric Klein, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. He said NetWare, Linux, Macintosh and even the Be operating system "now have opportunities because of the changing dynamics of the market."

Microsoft also "has some catching up to do in appliances," where Linux has an edge, according to Joe Clabby, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc.

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