Linux, the maverick free sourcecode Unix variant, was officially sanctioned on Tuesday as Netscape and Oracle both announced ports of their server software. Informix is expected to follow suit later this week.
Linux proponents have long planned, jokingly, for ?world domination?. But, as its creator Linus Torvalds said in a debate in Santa Clara last week, ?it?s becoming less and less of a joke?.
Oracle?s statement that it would launch a Linux version of its database seemed to be timed to steal competitor Informix? fire. Informix had been widely rumoured to be saving the announcement for its annual developer conference, which starts in Seattle on Wednesday. Computer Associates has also said it is working on a Linux version of its Open Ingres database.
Traditionally used by students and scientists, Linux has become very popular with Internet service providers. Lately, after a wave of media interest, many businesses have started to eye Linux as a cheap, reliable server for their Intranets and even as an application server.
There are few reliable numbers on the Linux installed base, because the Unix based operating system can be downloaded and distributed freely. A much quoted estimate says there are currently about seven million users.
Software vendors such as Netscape and Oracle say they have experienced, in the past few months, a groundswell of demand for a Linux version of their software.
Linux runs on many platforms, but recently most interest has gone to the Intel version, because it makes the operating system an alternative to Windows NT on low priced, industry standard hardware. Though the operating system is essentially free, a number of companies such as Red Hat and Caldera are currently selling and supporting commercial versions.
Netscape, Oracle and Informix all have a lot to win if Linux turns out to be a serious challenger for Windows NT at the low end of the Internet server and application server markets. Windows NT Server ships with a free copy of Internet Information Server, which competes with Netscape?s Web servers. And Microsoft Back Office, Microsoft?s suite of add-on products for NT Server, includes the database SQL Server, undercutting the pricing of standalone databases on NT.
?Oracle on Linux will provide a compelling alternative to Windows NT for companies that want an Internet based, low cost point of entry for Web enabling their business," predicted Gary Bloom, executive vice president of Oracle? system products division.
Oracle said it would ship Oracle 8 for Linux on Intel by the end of 1998. A Linux version of Oracle Applications will follow in the first quarter of 1999.
Netscape spokesperson Kate Sellers said Netscape customers ? particularly ISPs ? had been clamouring for the port. The company already has a Linux version of its browser. According to Kate Sellers the Linux version of Communicator 4.5 is currently the most downloaded Unix version of the browser.
Netscape said it would deliver Linux versions of all its server software, beginning in the fourth quarter with its Directory and Messaging Servers. The complete Netscape server portfolio should be available on Linux by late 1999 or early 2000, a spokesperson said.
But unlike Linux itself, these applications will not be free. Nor will customers receive the sourcecode - something that many current Linux users have come to expect. Netscape said it would charge customers the same for the Linux product as for NT or other Unix versions. Oracle said pricing had not yet been determined.
?Today, these vendors have legitimised the Linux market," said Dataquest analyst Chris Le Tocq. However, he said the announcement should not be overestimated. ?Supporting another Unix is not technically difficult for them. For Oracle and Informix, this is a test.?
But Le Tocq does think that the presence of Oracle and Informix will draw a new class of users to Linux - people with a budget.
The rising interest in Linux is likely to affect other Unix operating systems at the low end of the market. On the same day that Oracle and Netscape voiced their support for Linux, SCO announced dismal quarterly results. The company, which markets the leading Unix for Intel platforms, has seen its revenues shrink while the Unix market as a whole is growing. Facing increasing competition from Sun?s Solaris for Intel at the high end, and Linux at the low end, SCO might well begin to feel the squeeze.
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