Report from LinuxWorld: Linux Ready for Prime Time

"There is a lot of money walking around the show floor," noted open-source evangelist Bruce Perens, describing how Linux has turned into a commercial marketplace. Citing surveys showing that 53 percent of CIOs expect open source to dominate their IT environments by 2007, Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman claimed that Linux is ready for the enterprise today.

Underscoring this was support for the latest Linux 2.6 kernel, which provides enterprise-friendly enhancements such as support of larger files, a key benefit for supporting high-volume transaction systems, and announcements from Red Hat and Novell that their latest distributions have received security certifications from U.S. and European defense agencies.

Additionally, the distraction of the SCO lawsuit which cast a pall over the 2004 Linux event has largely subsided thanks to recent court rulings disparaging SCO's evidence and the possibility that NASDAQ may delist the company because it missed the deadline for filing its 2004 10K report with the SEC.

Nonetheless, regardless of the fate of the SCO suit, Perens warned that the threat of litigation wouldn't go away. "SCO is not the last case we'll have," he said, pointing to recent developments such as Microsoft's recruitment of intellectual property engineers for documenting prior art. Although IBM recently donated 500 patents to the open-source community, Perens claimed that they were but a fraction of the company's annual patent output, and that some of the donated intellectual property, such as patents covering design of set screws, were meaningless. Perens' views on patent problems are hardly universal, however. "At the end of the day, software patents are a way of life," responded Martin Fink, vice president of Linux for HP, in a keynote address.

Not surprisingly, several software vendors are offering products to manage intellectual property issues. Black Duck Software, which uses signature detection techniques similar to antiviral programs, announced its first customer, SAS, while Palamida, a new player, announced a similar offering.

Several players, such as Computer Associates and Novell, announced donation of several non-strategic software products to the open-source community. Project Hula, Novell's contribution, consists of SuSE NetMail, a lightweight Web-based e-mail and calendaring application, to the open-source community. According to Messman, Hula won't displace Novell's GroupWise as the company's flagship collaboration suite. Meanwhile, CA announced open sourcing of OpenIngres, which CEO John Swainsson characterized as a way to "extend the life" of a product that he conceded is no competition for IBM DB2 or Oracle.

Extolling the multi-platform advantages of Linux, IBM announced a new "Chiphopper" program aimed at encouraging third-party software vendors to port their offerings to any of IBM's platforms. According to Scott Handy, vice president of IBM's Linux business, porting is the easy part, because all of the major commercial Linux distributions use the same binary source code. IBM's program adds testing and verification tools, plus co-marketing dollars to boost third-party Linux support of zSeries and Power platforms, in addition to Intel x86.

Five years ago, Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, defended the "good chaos" of the open-source process as the best means for pooling the talents of the world's largest virtual software development team. One result is critical mass support from IBM, HP, Sun, Red Hat, Novell, Intel and others for Xen, a 3-year old open-source project for enabling multiple operating system images to work on the same machine. Another product of the chaos is the proliferation of nearly 50 variants on the General Public License (GPL) on which Linux is provided. Echoing a common sentiment among attendees, HP's Fink complained that 50 licenses were too many. Help may be on the way. Sam Greenblatt, a member of the Open Source Development Laborator (OSDL) board, hinted that the body might take action within weeks to pare the confusion down.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor. He can be reached at [email protected].