UNIX’s True Competition: Linux?

Linux only has a small percentage of the computing market, however Microsoft already considers it a major competition as the open source OS steals the hearts of many users. Following the hard numbers though, Microsoft also increases its market share on both server and desktop space with time. The only logical explanation is that Linux steals quite a market share from the traditional UNIX providers (SCO, Sun, SGI, HP, IBM). But only Sun seems to truly be in a real Linux trouble, as it is the one with a resistance to Linux integration to its full product range.Many consider Linux as the natural evolution over Unix. It is a re-implementation, largely compatible and while it doesn’t have all the features found on high-end UNIX OSes, it contains others that can’t be found in these propriety, commercial Unices. At the peak of Linux’s hype in 1999 and 2000, the main Unix providers re-arranged their strategy to include Linux, as they found that it just… sells. Except the lower price and the OSS mind share involved, there is nothing that Solaris, IRIX or AIX can’t do that Linux can. But the OSS-hype drive is strong enough to re-define the high-end server market.

IBM is selling Linux most of the time running under runtime engines rather than running it as the baseline OS. Linux beefed up the sales for IBM and in fact the company is very pleased of the market performance it gets by the the momentum it generates. AIX is still there, running Linux under virtualization, but where that leaves AIX as an overall useful OS running without the need of Linux?

SGI is selling either Linux Itanium servers or IRIX on MIPS, but their focus lately is totally on Linux. So where does this leave IRIX? We haven’t seen a major new version of IRIX for years now.

Sun is somewhere in the middle of the whole situation. Publicly they try to not stir the OSS community and place themselves as a “competition”, but in reality they still embrace Solaris more than Linux as their main product. Sun is to offer Red Hat Linux in the “Project Mad Hatter”, which aims to offer cheap LX/60 machines to their existing customers in the case of these customers say something like: “hey, these SPARC machines of yours are expensive for what we need, we will take a look to cheap x86 machines or even to Microsoft’s solutions”. In other words, Sun’s strategy on Linux is a backup one. But how much life Solaris still has under the competition of cheap Linux servers?

HP is only using HP-UX as a very specialized solution, mostly in the medical industry. HP-UX’s future (together with Solaris’) will probably be the one with more prospect from what we can see in the market today. But possibly not for long. HP already has made its Linux move, they already sell Linux machines and servers, while their other Unix, Compaq’s Tru64, is now getting integrated into HP-UX itself, so we won’t be seeing more of it in the future as an individual solution.

SCO’s strategy is well known to everyone. After Caldera bought SCO a few years ago, they grew weary of Linux and it is now the only big Unix commercial company that holds on to its original product and in fact, fight Linux via various ways. These “various” ways though they don’t help SCO to market their product in a favorable way. Customers are already turned away from SCO because of their recent behavior. If Linux truly replaces Unix with time, SCO Unix might be the first of the Unices to go down.

So what’s Linux’s role to the Unix timeline? Is it the natural evolution of the UNIX architecture that comes as a storm and replaces the old propriety products, or is it a temporary blip to the Unix history? Or is it a parallel technology? Is Linux a compliment solution or is it a replacement solution? From what we see so far, Linux moves towards replacing all Unix as we know it, and thankfully, these Unix companies realize it and embrace the change as fast as they can (except SCO of course, and Sun). Microsoft realizes these changes as well and without doubt doesn’t feel comfortable for them, as so far, Unix was a pretty dichotomized market. With an un-forked Linux kernel advancing in a very fast pace and getting developed by all these companies at once, is surely a huge competition for Microsoft.

The reason I wrote this editorial was because of my own “romantism” towards operating systems. One part of me believes that having a single OS running on all devices conceivable is great means for interoperability (think “Star Trek” and how they connect alien devices to their own with ease), but the other, “osnews” part of me, loves to see more and more operating systems and architectures on the plate. Seeing old traditional Unices fading away with time, or at least losing their glorious role every day to Linux or Windows, truly saddens me.


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