Developers Like Linux Licensing

It's hard to avoid news about Linux. It's been written about in a broad spectrum ofmagazines -- everything from Wired to Forbes. Some think it's an answer to Microsoft'shegemony, while others think it's not particularly relevant at all. But no matter what youthink, Linux has "buzz" -- a strange mix of marketing hype and actual potential.

If you're not a newbie, you already know that Linux is a "UNIX-like" OS,developed under the open source code model, which means that Linux source code is freelydistributed and available to the public. Linux licensing is based on the GNU GeneralPublic License, so if you don't like the way the software works, you just go to the sourcecode, make your changes and recompile.


The "UNIX-like" means that Linux is UNIX -- like HP-UX, IBM AIX and DigitalUNIX is UNIX -- except that those OSes are registered trademarks and therefore can't beused without certification and licensing. But quite frankly, the Linux community can't bebothered. They're too busy writing or modifying device drivers to take advantage of newhardware.

Because of these strengths, Linux's growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. RedHat Software, a commercial reseller of Linux, estimates from March 1998 (the latestpublished report) that 7,500,000 people use Linux and show that use more than doublingeach year since 1993, when an estimated 100,000 people used Linux. Indeed, a report fromresearch firm IDC, (Boston, Mass.) stated that the Linux share of the computer servermarket grew by 2,125% in 1998! That means Linux is growing faster than Windows NT, NetWareor any other server OS. NT, however, still holds the lead in overall share with 36%; Linuxand all other kinds of UNIX are at 17%.

Because of this growth, many companies have seen the commercial potential of Linux.Consider that during 1998:

Oracle announced it would port Oracle 8 and OracleApplications to Linux. Oracle execs stated that the move was to provide analternative to Windows NT at the low end of the database market.

Informix announced they would support the Linux platform.The company gives Informix-SE development licenses free of charge and maintains a Web sitefor developers.

Corel Corporation announced WordPerfect would run onLinux before the end of the year. And it did.

Red Hat Software's Secure Web Server 2.0 won a best ofshow award at Networld/Interop in October 1998. The software bundleincludes the Red Hat version of Linux and the Apache Web Server as well as severalextensions to support secure commerce via SSL.

Intel and Netscape have assumed an equity investment inRed Hat. It's assumed that Intel's investment is an expansion beyond itstraditional reliance on Microsoft. Intel also announced a technical liaison to work withthe Linux community developing device drivers.

Compaq has been widely rumored to be developing Linuxproducts. That may come from the remnants of Digital Equipment Corp., whowas active in porting Linux to the 64-bit Alpha platform. Compaq has been releasing Linuxdrivers for some of its products such as RAID controllers for some time.

At press, HP announced that it would support Linux on HPNetServers as well as port the OS to the forthcoming IA-64 (EPIC) architecture.Conforming to the established model for open-source code, HP intends to make this portavailable to the Linux community, as IA-64 specifications become public.

HP also announced a strategic alliance with Red Hat Software to offer integratedInternet solutions for the Linux platform through Channel Partners via its Covisionprogram. The alliance will provide end-to-end service and support for HP customers.Strengthening its commitment to provide customers with complete solutions, HP's GlobalIntegration and Installation Operation (GIIO) will offer installation and configurationservices for Red Hat Linux 5.2 on the HP NetServer LPr system.

In the meantime, Caldera Systems and Red Hat are taking steps to provide professionalquality support of their Linux distributions and creating training courses andcertifications. After all, many businesses are reluctant to adopt an OS that doesn't havesolid support.

But the most intriguing aspect, by far, of Linux, is the community that has developedaround it. That community is attracted to the ideas expressed in the GNU General Publiclicense, which "is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change freesoftware -- to make sure the software is free for all its users." Many peopledownplay the usefulness of Linux because of its shareware origins, but this is obviouslybeginning to change.