LinuxWorld Epilogue: Watch out, Microsoft!

It's starting to get interesting.

A bevy of announcements at last month's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Jose, Calif., got the attention of the technology world. For example, the GNOME Foundation ( -- braced by pledged support from IBM Corp. (, Dell Computer Corp. (, Sun Microsystems Inc. (, and Hewlett-Packard Co. ( among others -- announced its intention to combine all the flavors of open-source Linux and Unix into a common user interface. Also, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Linux NetworX (, Mission Critical Linux (, SuSE (, and Silicon Graphics ( announced clustering initiatives aimed at making Linux-based systems more friendly and reliable. Finally, Compaq announced a plan to ship Linux on workstation, thin and iPaq desktops, as well as an intention to preload Red Hat ( Linux 7.0 on ProLiant ML3300 and DL360 servers.

The three days of glamour and glitz certainly pumped up the volume for the Linux community, but at this point it's hard to look at it as much more.

"I think the better news is the strong financial performance recently of some Linux players," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. ( "Every step they make toward a common user interface, every set of standards they establish that manufacturers can rely upon, they show more potential to be real competition for Microsoft."

So is Linux finally becoming a threat to Microsoft Corp.'s ( desktop dominance? Last March, Ed Muth, group product manager at Microsoft, said Linux may be scaleable, but there weren't many applications available for Linux, there was no critical direction established for Linux, and Linux was simply more costly per transaction than Windows NT.

But that was half a year ago. Tracy Corbo, senior analyst at the Hurwitz Group (, points out that today the GNOME user environment now integrates Mozilla and Java, which gives it a language platform and a browser component. The Linux operating system has had some success in the corporate IT world, and there are products out there -- Helix Code and Eazel -- that have an established track record.

Still, she doesn't see much reason for Redmond to worry just yet.

"A lot of things have to happen for a legitimate Linux threat," Corbo says. She notes that the common user interface isn't there yet and several technologies must come together before all of the promise displayed by the show announcements is meaningful.

"But if it does, that's one powerful story," Corbo says.

Enderle cautions against getting caught up in the Linux hype -- even with the anticipated released of the Linux 2.4 kernel, which is being touted as expanding Linux system capabilities dramatically. "Don't expect a whole lot until you get up above 3.0," Enderle says.

"The best bet for Linux is still a dedicated box, a purposeful business operating system it can pretty much be wed to," Enderle says.