Windows NT has become the UK job market's most desired skill, beating Unix for the first time.
Last week recruitment research company MMS, which compiled the figures from job advertisements in newspapers and magazines, noted that interest in Unix experts had slumped by more than 35 per cent in the last 12 months.
This figure is staggering. Microsoft is peddling its outdated Windows NT4, a product it has been promising to replace for months. By rights, Unix systems should be extremely popular for customers who do not want to opt for Microsoft or who want a more scalable high-end system.
But this hasn’t happened, some say because the disciples of Unix have been locked in a religious war with the acolytes of its latest open-standard creation, Linux. It’s a civil war that some punters predict Linux will win. "Unix is static," says Simon Moores of the Windows NT forum. "Its market has been well and truly diluted by Linux. Companies that would normally have opted for Unix solutions are opting for Linux instead."
Converts to the Linux cause
Among high-profile Linux converts have been North Surrey Council and the Metropolitan Police, who were lured away from Unix by open standards and promises from major vendors of support.
There have also been some vendor defections towards Linux over recent months, and there seems to be evidence that Sun is back-peddling support from Java in favour of it, Moores said.
In the long term, Moores believes Linux will replace other Unix operating systems in the corporate market, leaving Microsoft the SMEs, which it already dominates.
The growth of Linux has happened because Microsoft is unable to compete until it releases Windows 2000. Linux has used the lull in the market while 2000 establishes itself, to carve a niche in the enterprise market at the expense of other Unix operating systems.
Once Windows 2000 is established and the market is convinced that it works, then the two operating systems will slug it out in an indecisive war for each other's markets - in much the same way that NT and Unix have been battling it out for the last two years, Moores said.
Microsoft's Windows NT server manager, Mark Tennant, admits that Linux will become 2000's main competition and there are a number of strategies being designed to tackle it. He hopes that the release of 2000's data server product, some 120 days after the main product, will provide some tough competition for Linux setups at the high end of the corporate market.
Currently Tennant does not believe that Linux has the ability to take away his customers. "I haven’t heard anyone talking about moving from an NT to a Linux model, but I have heard of Unix being damaged by it," he said.
NT has growing support among corporate customers and is seen as proven technology, Tennant claimed.
The other advantage is that there are so many software solutions that run on it.
"Companies are deciding the operating system on the basis of packages that will run on them. There are a huge number that are running on NT - and few that have been designed for Linux," Tennant said.
One of Microsoft's biggest marketing weapons against Linux will be the offer of cut-price training schemes. Recently the company announced that it would be spending more than $40 million to subsidise the training of Windows 2000 developers. It is a model that Microsoft used successfully last year when it spent $20 million to establish SQL Server 7 through a similar discounted training scheme.
This cheap training shows superb strategic marketing by Microsoft. Effectively it means that the company has been tinkering with the job market to lower the overall cost of rolling out an NT project.
Put simply, easy access to cheap training has meant that there are a large number of people on the job market with Windows NT skills. Because of the laws of supply and demand, their skills are a lot cheaper for an employer to buy than Unix or Linux.
MMS figures show that more than 80 per cent of Unix experts are paid more than £35,000, while 80 per cent of those with NT skills are paid between £15-£30,000.
Linux skills are still rare, and salaries for those with the skill are higher than Unix.
But Sun's UK product marketing manager, Chris Sarfas, thinks that many observers are failing to see that Linux is just another version of Unix.
"Someone who can use Unix can use Linux - there is zero difference in the skills. If you add the growth in Linux to the figures for the decrease in Unix, I bet you will see that they’re the same level or higher," he said.
Sarfas believes that it’s a fundamental misconception that Linux growth helps NT. Anything that helps the growth of Linux will help the growth of Unix generally, he said.
Sarfas does not believe that Linux will find its home in the high-end corporate environment because it does not have the tools to handle key functions like clustering. He believes that will remain the domain of commercial Unix systems like Solaris, although NT will eventually find its way into that market.
"Where Linux will find its home is on the desktop as part of the development environment, and this worries Microsoft very much," Sarfas said.
Linux gives developers the opportunity to develop applications that are not locked into the Microsoft environment and will work anywhere.
"Microsoft should be extremely worried, because every Linux sale is going to be an NT sale missed," Sarfas said.
If Sarfas is right, then Linux should be seen as Unix's counter-strike against NT, rather than its nemesis.
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