Editorial: It's Deja Vu All Over Again

See if you can guess where, and when, I am.

Average-size expo hall, lots of people. Long hair, ponytails, ZZ Top beards, sandals and a few tie-dyed T’s. Macworld circa 1984? Nope. There’s very few booth gimmicks and gimmies, just pure technological fun and a group of attendees who just propped open a security door to catch a butt outside. Some Internet show five years back? Not quite, but you’re getting closer.

OK, there’s a keg on the front of the expo floor and dozens of penguins everywhere, including one "on the tele." Now have you figured it out? I’m in North Carolina at RedHat’s Linux Expo this past May.

You may be wondering what many asked me at the show: "What’s the Editor in Chief of Enterprise Systems Journal doing at Linux Expo?" No, I didn’t cheese off my publisher, and no, I didn’t lose any bets. The fact is I wanted to be there, much like all of the corporate IS directors (you know the guys and gals who spend the big bucks) who were jumping from booth to booth alongside the more, shall we say, "casual" attendees.

According to most attendees, last year’s expo was next to nothing and the year before it was, well… nothing. But, this year it was movin’ and shakin’ and there was a definite, dare I say, commercial charge to the floor. On the exhibit floor, which never really seemed to slow down, modern zealots met with representatives from traditional agnostics, like SGI, HP, Fujitsu, Oracle and Sun, right alongside Linux stalwarts, like Penguin, Caldera, Linuxcare and, of course, RedHat. Oh yeah, and IBM was there.

In fact, IBM recently announced an alliance with Pacific HiTech that will enable the commercial distributor of Linux to ship IBM DB2 Universal Database, with its Linux operating system suite, TurboLinux.

IBM, which has pledged to make its flagship software products available for Linux, maintains its DB2 Universal Database, On-Demand Server and key WebSphere Web application server products are already in beta testing. And Lotus Development plans to implement support for its Lotus Domino.

But is Linux really enterprise-ready? Remember that old saying, "Ask 10 different people what ‘Open Systems’ means and get 10 different answers?" Well, depending on whom you ask, Linux has been/is now/is very soon to be/or nearly-almost sometime-in-the-next-three-years ready to be a key part of today’s corporate enterprise. Unless, of course, you ask 10 people from Microsoft. I won’t go into how Linux should have Gates and gang quaking; rather, loyal Linuxites need to look at NT as not only the competition, but also as the model – the model they should not let happen to their OS.

I like to think of NT as the Home Depot for IS managers. When the Depot first comes on the scene in a community it’s shiny and organized, with low, low prices and a staff falling over itself with service. Meanwhile, they’re slowly knocking out any small fry competition. Once they have you by the nuts and bolts, it’s, "Well, if you don’t see it, we don’t have it," or "I’m on my way to break now," or "Check valves? I work in gardening." And my favorite, "We only carry this brand now, so you’ll have to take that."

Linux is in a proverbial Catch 22. It represents the small hardware guy’s comeback, but it needs to break into the mainstream to have an impact. But to go mainstream it needs applications, and to get apps it needs commercial support. And the big guys won’t port unless they can make money (nothing wrong with that), keep control and put their scent on the product. Hey, can anyone say UNIX?