COMDEX: Linux, Linux everywhere

This is surely the year of Linux, judging by Fall Comdex '99. The open-source operating system is all over the show this week, including at a keynote address, that great litmus test of buzz. Linux creator Linus Torvalds spoke to a packed ballroom Monday, and the head of application-maker Corel, among others, declared that Linux's time is now.

"DOS had 10 years, Windows has had the last 10 years and now it's time for Linux," said Michael Cowpland, president and chief executive officer of Corel.

Linux is an open OS that has made inroads in the server market but has lagged on the desktop. The knock against Linux has long been that it is too difficult to work with and that there are no applications for it.

"At this point, the perception is that Linux is viable (only) for servers," said Dan Kusnetzky, a program director at IDC.

But at Comdex this week, announcements and demonstrations from the show floor might change that perception.

"Today, Linux is as easy to use as Windows," Corel's Cowpland said.

The arrival of desktop applications is key to computer systems administrator Paul Stoecker's interest in Corel Linux. Stoecker works for Panasonic Technologies and supports highly technical users as well as others who simply need a word processor and spreadsheet. "We have a lot of normal business users, in addition to researchers," Stoecker said. Stoecker's users are running Solaris, Windows NT and Windows, but the arrival of the Corel Linux OS and related applications may change that equation, he said.

If Linux is increasingly seen as becoming easier to use and the number of Linux apps increase, the operating system could make real inroads into the corporate market. The growth opportunity for Linux is quite significant, according to IDC. The Linux operating environment, both client and server, is expected to achieve a 25 per cent compound annual growth rate through 2003, according to Kusnetzky. That will include, on the server side, Linux's securing the number-two spot, behind NT but ahead of NetWare and Unix, Kusnetzky said.

Another potential accelerant of Linux's success, though hard to measure, is user glee in the open-source, "for-the-people" aspect of Linux. Many attendees expressed delight that Linux has evolved to the point where it can be positioned against Microsoft.