Linux projected to outpace all contenders through 2003
April 2, 1999
by Steven Brody
(IDG) -- Total Linux commercial shipments will grow faster than those of all other client or server operating environments through 2003, reports International Data Corporation (IDC). IDC says it is reporting the figures in response to increased demand for details on the open source operating system's progress -- but getting the numbers right is no simple matter.
IDC estimates that Linux commercial shipments will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25 percent from 1999 through 2003, compared with a 10 percent CAGR for all other client operating environments combined, and a 12 percent CAGR for all other server operating environments combined.
Linux experienced record growth in 1998, leaping to a 17.2 percent market share -- more than double its market share over 1997. Not surprisingly, Red Hat Inc. holds the leading market share, with Caldera a distant second, said IDC.
IDC attributed the 1998 increase to strong performance, low cost, and a wave of anti-Microsoft sentiment -- none of which is expected to change in the coming year.
"IDC realized over a year ago that the Linux movement was imminent, and at that point in time decided to pull Linux out of the ubiquitous and otherwise ignored 'Other' category in operating environment reporting," said William Peterson, research analyst at IDC. "The reasons IDC decided to treat Linux as it would any other operating system included the belief that Linux had potential to progress beyond its current state, demand-side studies that showed marked Linux usage in a number of industries, and customer demand for expanded Linux research."
IDC's Linux coverage, however, is limited to shipments from the four major commercial Linux vendors: Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera, and Pacific HiTech. While these vendors provide support, documentation, and application packages, they are by no means the only source for a copy of the Linux operating system. Linux can be downloaded from myriad sites on the Internet, and trying to determine exactly how many copies are downloaded and subsequently installed is next to impossible.
"It's a market that has been really difficult for us to get our arms around," said Dan Kuznetsky, program manager for IDC's operating environments group. "We have no real way to track the number of copies of Linux that are installed. If a person downloads a copy from site, they could wind up installing Linux on one machine or a thousand machines. What we can keep track of is the money generated by commercial shipments."
But even in this arena, real figures can be hard to pin down. None of the four major vendors are publicly held companies, which means their revenues and shipment figures can't be cross-checked with public financial reports. IDC can only ask for figures from a given vendor and, using "anecdotal evidence" and the figures from the other three, attempt to verify the company's claim.
Once raw shipment figures have been determined, it's still a challenge to divide the market into server and client installations, says Kuznetsky. The difficulty is that any one machine may be used as both (as a client during the day, and as a server at night, for example). Specific figures for client versus server shipments are available in the IDC report, though Kuznetsky did say that Linux is doing much better on the server side.
"For database servers, app servers, and Web servers, the tools are all there now, or have been announced and will be shortly," said Kuznetsky. Still missing, however, are system integrators, major software ports from the likes of Baan and PeopleSoft, endorsements from key consulting firms like EDS (Electronic Data Systems), and clustering technology.
Improving Linux's acceptance on the desktop would be aided in part by an improved graphical user interface (GUI) and increased desktop application availability, IDC's report concluded.
Linux, said Kuznetsky, is expected to grow at about twice the rate of the combined established commercial Unix flavors. The OS is on the cusp of a grassroots movement, which, says IDC, will take it out of the laboratory and the basements of hobbyists, and see the OS spread fast among techies everywhere and eventually on to the consumer market.
This gives Linux's growth a lead over Unix, which, by contrast, is beginning to consolidate due to the availability of high-end multiprocessing servers that support many times the number of users supported by a Linux or Windows NT-based system. That means Unix shipments are going down, though IDC predicts a continued increase in revenues.
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