The purpose of this paper is to provide analysis on the Linux operating system along with Open Source software in general. Discussion will include benefits of the operating system, some of its downfalls, and the direction where Linux and the Open Source movement is headed. It is targeted specifically for IT managers and CIO’s who are considering Linux Distribution rollouts to replace their existing IT systems. Lastly conclusions and recommendations will be made. This paper was created primarily as a research paper however it includes some personal experiences, and experiences derived from other Linux users.
The whispers of a growing number of Linux desktop platforms have reached many an IT managers ear, and as the community continues to grow and blossom it will become a point of hot contention as companies seek to justify switching to Linux. As a recent article at LinuxWorld (Gael Duval, 2003, Subheading 3, Paragraph 1) points out “More and more companies are migrating parts or all of their infrastructure to Linux. They need a system that is more efficient, more flexible, more open, more robust, and more customizable. In these challenging economic times, businesses also need to reduce their total cost of ownership. Linux is certainly the best solution for all of the reasons stated above, and more.” However as with anything new to your IT infrastructure there are many factors to consider before migrating to Linux.
Opening up to Linux and Open Source
So what makes Linux different from every other operating system? The answer is that it essentially is 100% free. Richard Stallman an AI worker for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was offended by the idea that companies could prevent people from freely distributing software and source code, founded this concept of free software. Stallman is famous for his quote “Software is information” and “All information should be free!”. From Stallman evolved the General Public License (GPL), which permits software to be freely distributable, and its source code freely accessible. What this means for IT managers everywhere, is that they can download a completely free fully licensed operating system and distribute it amongst as many computers as they wish. The implications of this license are profound when you factor that a single licensed copy of Windows 2000 Professional can cost anywhere from $170 and up. So the savings even for a small business with 10 computers is easily over $2000.
Many companies have invested in creating their own Linux operating system, which are described as Linux distributions. Although there are many smaller companies and individuals that provide distributions, the main distributions are Redhat, Mandrake, and SuSE. Each of these three vendors provide free downloadable copies of their latest operating systems and purchasable packages for businesses or individuals who wish to acquire technical support or a larger more robust system administration feature set.
Every distribution also comes with a hefty amount of bundled software that you would never find in a Microsoft based operating system. Openoffice.org has recently produced an excellent office program that is freely available, and features a full-blown Microsoft Office compatible word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing suite as well as database access and MYSQL support. Ximian Evolution features basically everything that Microsoft Outlook features, and at no cost. Project management and programming software is also available freely with every distribution. Another great addition is GIMP, which is a graphical manipulation program similar to Adobe Photoshop and offers professional grade graphical editing capabilities. For companies into digital movie editing/production, MainActor and Jahshaka provide professional grade multimedia editing capabilities, and are quite easy to learn. All of these pieces of software combined with many more make Linux a popular choice for anyone looking to decrease their bottom line. Though some of these programs are not quite as intuitive as their windows counterparts they are certainly still more than adequate.
Perhaps one of the biggest areas Linux has powered into is the server environment. Imagine the ability to have your own Web server, DNS server, SQL server, or your own file and print server readily available at your fingertips. For a fully featured server in the windows environment with the same services an IT manager would be looking at spending somewhere between $1000-$2000 depending on which version of Microsoft Server you decide to purchase. Configuring these servers although not trivially simple is no more difficult than configuring them in Windows. In fact in my own experience, configuring Apache in Linux was much faster than trying to get Tomcat to work in a Windows 2000 Server environment. Some distributions such as Redhat provide simple tools to aid the user in configuring these services, thus greatly easing the pain of manually editing certain files.
Arguably the largest benefit of running a Linux system is security. Although there are tens of thousands of viruses for Windows with new ones produced every day, there is only a couple hundred viruses for Linux most of which are not nearly as severe as their Windows counterparts and are produced on a much more infrequent basis. Customized security programs such as Bastille can lock down your system into a very secure state within a couple of minutes, and provide much better security than the default servers built into newer version of Windows. Even though viruses on the Linux platform are very rare, for peace of mind there a number of organizations that continue offer free virus scanning software.
Current Issues with Linux and Open Source
Although there are many selling features of switching to a Linux system, there are equally just as many down sides. Firstly, the Linux community is plagued by perpetual beta releases of every piece of software that reaches a certain milestone. Instead of waiting until a program, or more importantly an Operating System is fully operational and ready for release, a lot of companies have been marketing products that are not yet complete, or contain a large number of bugs. As Tower Group’s Shahrawat states (Jim Middlemiss, 2002, 3rd Last Paragraph) a “Major downside is that the Linux marketplace is the Wild West.” This analogy of comparing the Linux system architecture to that of the old Wild West may certainly be a little extreme, however it definitely does state a point. There are many issues that hamper Linux, and when one jumps on the bandwagon it can certainly get wild at times.
The learning curve from switching from Windows to Linux is certainly quite steep and in fact many users who are not experienced IT professionals give up on a regular basis. The problem is, that documentation for most programs is highly technical and often missing vital pieces of information that the company just leaves up to the end user to figure out. A frustrated editor trying to install a PVR/media jukebox server system from Extremetech (Dave Salvator, 2003, Paragraph 3) writes, “I took my time. I read all the documentation. I diagnosed and fixed multitudinous glitches. But instead of success, I’m sleep-deprived, frustrated, and ready to chuck the box out the window.” Although this may be a somewhat extreme example, the difficulty of installing and understanding how to maintain a Linux based system is not in the least trivial. Even for seasoned professionals, the task of installing certain applications can be tedious due to the poor package management system. A good example of this is an application (A), which requires for package A to be built, packages B and C are also necessary. However where the trick comes in, is that for C to be built you must get packages D, E, and F. Often the necessary packages you need to install are not available for your distribution, or you receive errors while installing them that prevent you from installing any further. The simple fact that installing programs is difficult should concern IT managers looking to run Linux as a desktop environment for users, as training these users on how to utilize the new system will be a long and costly process.
There are a number of frustrations that Linux as a whole has yet to overcome. One issue is the widespread lack of driver support for non-mainstream hardware. Another issue is the technical difficulty level of configuring servers and sharing network resources. Lastly yet another issue is that technical assistance is more or less left up to the user unless they purchase a vendor package.
Upcoming Ethical Issues with Linux
Over the last 20 odd years, Linux has progressively built on its code foundation due to generous donations of code by single programmers, groups of programmers, and companies. If it were not for the community that Linux has built itself, it would not exist in the state it exists today. However a recent court case propagated by SCO against IBM has launched the very core of Linux into the midst of a large ethical debate concerning intellectual property. For the purposes of this paper we will define the term intellectual property as any intangible asset that consists of human knowledge and ideas.
The argument set forth by the SCO Group concerning Linux is that IBM has misappropriated some of SCO’s Unix trade secrets and has built them into Linux. According to SCO’s CEO David McBride, (Stephen Shankland, 2003 A, Paragraph 4) “We’re finding…cases where there is line-by-line code in the Linux kernel that is matching up to our UnixWare code.” McBride said in an interview. In addition he also said “We’re finding code that looks likes it’s been obfuscated to make it look like it wasn’t UnixWare code–but it was.”
IBM of course responded and has claimed that (Stephen Shankland, 2003 B, Paragraph 4) “While IBM has endeavored to support the open-source community and to further the development of Linux, IBM has not engaged in any wrongdoing,” Certainly it appears that IBM does have the upper hand in the case as it is yet to be seen if SCO can actually produce verifiable evidence that IBM has been stealing its intellectual property. IBM has also backlashed with accusations that SCO is trying to interfere with the Open Source community and the further development of Linux. Indeed if SCO can’t prove its claims this would look very suspicious as Linux has been continuing to replace UNIX servers worldwide. Given this fact it is entirely possible that SCO is trying to stall Linux in an effort to slow transition of servers from UNIX to Linux.
Although the lawsuit at this time is pointed squarely at IBM it may not stay that way for much longer. More suits are expected against key Linux providers such as Redhat, SuSE and Mandrake as the case gains momentum. There are a number of implications in this suit and the way they affect business. Firstly there is talk that if SCO wins their lawsuit that there will be a tariff set forth by SCO on all Linux products to account for their so called losses. Several rumors have already spread that SCO is considering an additional fee per purchase of $96 US per CPU , for distributions that SCO claims have violated their intellectual property rights. Secondly with the upcoming suits again IBM and other Linux supporters/vendors, it is likely that we will see Linux development begin to taper a bit as companies will be less willing to invest in an operating system with questionable ethical issues. This will not only slow development in the market, but it may also push a large number of existing Linux networks into converting to other operating systems in order to avoid possible licensing embroilments.
As an IT manager it is important to realize that not only will Linux become more expensive per seat if SCO has their way, but the potential fallout related to this ethical issue could be critical in a time where Linux is needing corporate recognition. Even if SCO does not succeed, the results of negative press and poor PR that Linux is bound to receive during the court case could mean that Linux will not receive as much corporate support as they may have had prior to this lawsuit. In addition to this it will set all sorts of future precedents involving intellectual property. By having intellectual property as a claimable commodity, application designers have the hassle of reinventing the wheel every time they develop new ideas. What this would mean is that any time they wish to perform a function or concept that has been previously coined by another organization, they would have to come up with a new way of doing the same thing. This would not only waste unnecessary time in the development cycle, but it would also mean that finances would be drawn away from creating genuine new concepts, and technological progress would slow to a crawl.
It will be difficult to fathom how much this will cost Linux distributions if SCO wins, and whether or not existing users will be susceptible, but IT managers should carefully watch this issue before investing heavily in Linux infrastructure.
Industry Direction and the Future of Linux
Linux has recently garnered 10% of the market share, and has accelerated into being Microsoft’s number one competitor. With an estimated 18 million users across the world the Operating System is definitely going places. As an operating system it has experienced incredible growth in the last number of years, and in my opinion will continue to do so due to several key players now jumping onboard. Notably IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Novell have all begun development and heavy investment into the operating system. Novell in particular perhaps has the most to bring to the table, as their groupware suites are unrivaled in the windows environment. This will likely push Linux right into the waiting arms of corporate America, which is just beginning to release itself to the concept of Linux and reducing the stranglehold that Microsoft has set forth. “We’re putting our entire ecosystem behind Linux.” said Jack Messman in a recent interview (John Leyden, 2003, Paragraph 4), chairman and chief executive of Novell. “We are not abandoning NetWare, we are adding Linux. It’s all about choice for the customer.” Indeed it will be choice that will be driving consumers to choose Linux as their desktop platform. With support from such large corporations, Linux has acquired a strong financial backing, and will only continue to grow and prosper.
With the upcoming next generation release of Windows Longhorn in 2005 many eyes are fixed on whether Linux will muster the strength to provide the features that Longhorn will offer. One well-known industry analyst, Rob Enderle became famous by his shockingly true 5-year industry forecast on Operating Systems in early 1995. (Rob Enderle, 2003, Page 2 Paragraph 7). In his forecast he accurately predicted the decline of Unix and Netware and the rise of Windows NT. The most controversial aspect of all this was his prediction that IBM would abandon its OS/2 operating system which made his life very difficult. In his most recent article in Internet Week Rob Enderle states “Linux can match Windows 2005 on performance and trust. Like Windows, Linux runs on Intel (processors). And IBM is leading the effort, with Intel’s support, to support Intel’s trusted computing technology on Linux, the same technology that Microsoft is using in Windows 2005.” In the remainder of the article he goes on to state that Linux will continue to gain ground due to its incredible price advantage. He predicted that in particular, 3rd World countries would continue to embrace Linux with open arms favoring it highly over its expensive closed source competitor Microsoft. What this will mean is that as more and more users worldwide switch to Linux, undoubtedly the level of participation in creation of new program, input on bugs, and solutions to problems will increase. This in addition to the many businesses and governments that are finding Linux to be a great alternative simply by its terms of openness will provide an unprecedented level of growth in the Linux market.
Over the next few years I would expect to see growth in the development of Linux applications. The power of the Linux architecture is just beginning to be realized, and commercialization of Linux has just begun. The fact that Linux has been developed by thousands of individual people without any form of governing body will entice all sorts of entrepreneurs to begin building applications, as they will not have to pay royalties to Microsoft. What this will mean for IT managers is a wider range of available applications and proper support for those products. Lotus Notes is already being ported to Linux, and more mainstream applications are bound to follow. The outlook on Linux is good and the time to adopt is rapidly approaching.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Linux has finally become a viable windows alternative. However there are still a few pitfalls that could cause some havoc in a large corporate environment. An IT manager should evaluate these potential downfalls carefully, and weigh them against the costs of continuing to run the existing system. While certainly Linux is free, the cost of teaching new techniques to hardened Windows users is a time consuming and costly process. Although the average time required to do tasks in Linux is similar to that of Windows it does not take into account learner resistance or poor teaching skills, which means that it may take significantly longer to learn than say a new version of Windows which is merely a new look and a slightly different layout.
Prior to considering rolling out Linux in a full corporate environment IT managers should take the time to play around with different distributions and really research which matches their specific environment best, as each distribution has its up and down sides. The key is to choose a distribution that not only compliments your corporation, but also comes with a software suite that suits all your corporate needs. If additional software is needed, make sure this software is easily installable prior to rollout and that there are no huge bugs that will cause interference with daily production.
Linux has entered the corporate environment and it is here to stay. With all the built in free features it offers it certainly provides an edge that Microsoft operating systems do not. Switching should not be a matter of purpose; it should be a matter of choice, for that is what the Open Source movement is all about.
Glossary of Terms
Information Technology (IT) – a field that deals with management, business (especially online businesses, and retrieval of data; IT provides customer and business care.
General Public License (GPL) – The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a non-profit institution that designed the GNU General Public License (GPL) to promote the publication of free software. The GPL is used by thousands of programmers who want to give others the right to copy and modify the source code of their programs. Millions of people benefit from this.
We use the GPL to allow everyone to use, copy and modify the Internet Junkbuster as they wish. Companies can use it for commercial purposes, but they are not permitted to use it in products that they claim as their property without negotiating a separate agreement with us beforehand.
Linux Distribution – A version of Linux produced either by a certain company or individual. Linux distributions tend to vary wildly in what software they contain, what hardware they support, and what features are included by default.Redat, Mandrake, Ximian, Lindows, and SuSE are considered the most commercialized distributions and are available with full technical support for a small fee.
Rolling Out – A term for distributing a new computerized system or Operating System within a department. Roll outs are usually fairly large scale and can incorporate a sudden switch to a new platform or a slow gradual replacement of old software with new software.
Tomcat – A stripped down version of Apache used primarily as a lightweight web server.
Proffitt, Brian (2003, October 3rd) Open Source needs long range plans. Retrieved October 9th, 2003 from
In this article the author discusses the need for Open Source projects to seek to create long range planning both in terms of development and in terms of financial backing. He points out that if Sun were to halt a large amount of it’s funding for major Open Source software many projects would suffer.
Salvator, Dave (2003, September 2nd) We have met the enemy and he is us. Retrieved October 13th, 2003 from
In this article the author discusses some of the major frustrations many new Linux users face. He goes on to make some interesting analogies on how to fix these issues, and draws some interesting conclusions on the fact that Linux needs to begin hiding some of its more advanced features from users so as not to confuse them.
Leyden, John (2003, September 8th) Novell ‘puts entire ecosystem behind Linux’. Retrieved October 10th, 2003 from
An article on what Novell plans to do with its new Linux acquisitions comprising of Ximian and SuSE. It also discusses how Novell views the ongoing issues with SCO and to what extend it believes this suit could affect them.
Rapoza, Jim (2003, September 1st) Linux is not so ‘Free’. Retrieved October 12th, 2003 from
This article discusses some of the aspects of what makes Linux not as free as we’re all led to believe. The term “total cost of ownership” is discussed which brings up several good points about the costs associated with learning Linux. It also coins in on issues some of the big Linux providers such as Redhat have while trying to turn Linux into a profitable market.
Duval, Gael (2003, August 11th) Why migrate to Linux? Retrieved October 8th ,2003 from
The author of this article provides a very well researched view on some of the upsides and downsides of switching to Linux. He analyzes the operating system, comparing its usability to Windows and provides some conclusions and recommendations on its use. Overall this article presented a very positive view on Linux.
Forrester Research (2003, April 5th) Linux questions and answers. Retrieved October 11th, 2003 from
This is a special FAQ posted by Forrester Research on technical aspects of Linux. The goal of the article is to advise IT managers for CIO’s of some of the benefits of Linux, the costs involved, some disadvantages, and who else is making the same Linux leap in the corporate environment.
Middlemis, Jim (2002, October 7th) Linux garners Wall Street’s attention. Retrieved October 10th, 2003 from
007S0007 This article discusses the fact that Linux has recently drawn the attention of Wall Street. Indeed most of the key corporate players are now evaluating Linux in their IT departments to varying degrees. It talks about some of the corporations who have turned almost all their IT operations over to Linux, and some more who are on the verge of doing so. It also discusses the role of Linux in the large corporate environment and some of the issues that corporations are having with Linux.
Rosenfield, Eric (2002, May 30th) Switching to Linux. Retrived October 10th, 2003 from
This is a editorial on switching to Linux. The author provides some background information on Linux and delves into why he believes Linux is a very viable desktop solution. It discusses many issues from application software to games, and provides a general overview of the pros of Linux.
Newman, Nathan (1999, December 12th) The origins and future of Open Source software.Retrieved October 9th,2003 from
This is a fairly large whitepaper on the origins and future of Open Source software. The paper discusses the history of Open Source, some of its standards, and a breakdown of government issues with Open Source software and a overview of where the movement may be going.
Stephen Shankland (2003 A, May 1st) SCO: Unix Code Copied Into Linux. Retrieved October 16th from
In this article the author outlines SCO’s case against IBM. It discusses some of the areas in which IBM is accused of stealing some of SCO’s source code and including it in Linux, and provides some insight as to why SCO is suing. Concerns are also outlined by members of the Linux community regarding SCO, and counter allegations against SCO for FUD(foster fear, uncertainty and doubt ) slinging are also discussed.
Stephen Shankland (2003 B, May 1st) SCO: IBM Denies Charges of UNIX Theft. Retrieved October 16th from
This is a counter article on SCO’s article on the misappropriation some of it code by IBM. IBM denies SCO Group’s allegations that it misappropriated Unix trade secrets, however it does not discuss what IBM’s strategy will be in its upcoming suit.
Rob Enderle (2003, November 17th) How Linux And The Mac Can Compete Against Windows “Longhorn” Retrieved November 18th from
The author of this article has a very strong reputation of being able to accurately predict what will be coming down the Operating System road. In this article he summarizes what he thinks the Operating System scene will look like by 2005. He surmises that Linux will continue to grow while Macintosh is in for a bit of a rough ride. Windows Longhorn and Linux will definitely be going head to head more often under his outline.