If you haven’t made the leap to Windows Vista yet, there is an alternative worth considering. It is often available for free, or at a substantially reduced cost. And it is available as a server platform as well. I’m talking about Linux, the open source operating system.
And while Linux trails Microsoft’s operating system (OS), it has a higher growth rate while coming from a small base. According to a Gartner Group forecast last year, Linux has about $8 billion in server shipment revenue, which will grow to about $13 billion by 2011. At the same time however, Microsoft’s Windows will likely reach $22 billion in server shipment revenue in the same time frame. But that is $13 billion in revenue on what many people consider a free open source software.
Linux isn’t a new phenomenon. The software has been around for more than a decade, and has maintained cult popularity, offering a desktop OS alternative to Windows and Apple; but its real power has been on the aforementioned server side.
In recent years, Linux has become a powerhouse in the business world. Linux was developed in the early 1990s as an alternative to an OS called MINIX, itself an alternative to UNIX. MINIX was much cheaper and more freely available than the other UNIX operating systems available at that time, but wasn’t free or open. Linus Torvalds, then a student at the University of Helsinki, wanted something that was both. So he started Linux, which at first had to be installed on top of MINIX. Soon, it shed any ties with other operating systems and its status as freely downloadable and user-extendable made it spread far beyond its humble beginnings. As a result Linux is open source, meaning anyone can download and modify the source code. But this isn’t exactly true for many businesses.
Linux, at its core, was designed to be developer-friendly, and as a result grew with the development of the Web in the mid-1990s. Part of the popularity with Linux was that it could emulate a Windows file and printer server, and many IT departments essentially “snuck in” this open source OS to save money. But once Oracle and IBM supported Linux, it came out of the closet — only to go to the server closet where, some analysts say, at least 80 to 90 percent of businesses use Linux in some way.
There are different ways that Linux can be used in the small and medium-sized business environment: in desktop PCs, servers (such as e-mail servers), and on workstations (such as graphic workstations). Companies need to undertake cost analyses to figure out whether a move to Linux in any of those categories makes economic sense – figuring out the costs associated with upgrading, any new licensing fees and finding technical staff that can shepherd the changeover.
However, one of the great misconceptions about Linux is that businesses can just run it for free. While there are plenty of free downloadable versions, most small and medium-sized businesses still rely on official versions that feature the traditional tech support you’d find with Windows or even Unix. In fact, changing an “official” version of Linux from Red Hat or Novell will void the warranty.