How Linux got so dang hot
(IDG) -- "I think I can, I think I can."
That's the sound of Linux, the open source, "freeware" operating system, making its climb to get on more computers and into more corporate networks.
There's no doubt that the Linux train is rolling full-steam ahead: Recent announcements of large software developers that are porting their products to Linux and positive discussions in such publications as Forbes and The Economist have added momentum. The impetus is giving some supporters a reason to believe Linux could overtake Windows NT as the operating system of choice in the next few years.
After all, with Apache Web Server - also free and community-supported - rated as the most used Internet server in a Netcraft survey, there's room for a freeware operating system to be a hit. And while Microsoft has a seemingly insurmountable lead in operating system deployment, that was the case with Netscape's browsers before Microsoft decided to make a war out of it.
One hurdle that Linux must clear before it breaks heavily into enterprise settings is the common belief that cheap price equals poor quality. To those who have taken a shot with Linux, cheap price translates into low project costs - and high reliability.
"I chose Linux because it is far more stable and functional than the alternatives. My system has never crashed," says Keith Dart, a test engineer at Cisco Systems in Santa Clara, Calif.
Dart employs Linux for everyday applications, such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, but he also uses it for special projects, such as the testing of products.
Because Linux doesn't require powerful hardware, a lot of network administrators are taking the operating system for a test drive on older - and previously shelved - computers. Jack Tackett, manager of system operations for Nortel Information Network, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., puts Linux to work providing ISP services across North America.
"The fact you can reuse obsolete hardware and turn it into a productive system with Linux makes it a viable choice for cost-conscious businesses and organizations," Tackett says.
Tackett also applauds Linux's support structure, a system that has caused some to shy away from corporate use of the operating system. While it lacks support in the traditional sense, a slew of enthusiasts and professionals in the community are more than happy to lend a hand and are just a newsgroup or mailing list away. In addition, distributors such as Red Hat Software and Caldera have rolled out formal support.
Of course, Linux has been well shaken out in the seven years since Linus Torvalds created it while he was a student at the University of Helsinki. Linux is stable, but it's also in a constant state of upgrading and improvement, and those who aren't afraid to get under the hood themselves relish the fact that they can fiddle to get the results they need.
"Occasionally, I would like slightly different behavior from an application, tool or a new feature," Dart explains. "Since I have all the source code available to me, I can alter any part I desire to fit my exact needs."
It's got the spirit
With companies such as Oracle, Computer Associates, Informix, Netscape and Corel supporting Linux with ports of their products - and with others on the horizon - Linux devotees have a lot to cheer about. Even if it doesn't become the operating system of choice for the majority, its all-for-one nature parallels the spirit behind the evolution of the Internet.
"Linux . . . does not need to [replace Windows] to be successful. For many, it is their operating system of choice," says Roldan Pozo, who works in the mathematical and computational sciences division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
"It may not take over the world, but it will always be loved and maintained by a global community of enthusiastic supporter," Pozo says.
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