IBM informs us that it has over 300 zSeries customers who are piloting Linux. It also claims that a further 400 are likely to get involved in pilots.
The zSeries is the current brand name for the S390 mainframe. So we are witnessing a significant interest in Linux from big companies (by and large, it is only big corporates that have mainframes).
To this news, we can add the remarkable conversion of Amazon to the Linux cause. Amazon.com, the online retailer, claimed in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to have cut technology expenses by $17 (about 25 per cent, from $71m to $54m).
It attributed the bulk of this impressive cost saving to a migration from Unix to Linux, although it also managed to cut some of its data and telecommunication services costs.
Linux now appears to have somewhere in the region of 30 per cent of the server market, although much of the anecdotal evidence suggests that it is taking more business away from Unix than it is from Windows NT.
In reality, this is what we should expect: after all, migrating to Linux from Unix is easier and most software will port from one to the other.
Linux cuts costs in a number of ways. It costs nothing itself and comes with a whole set of software that also costs nothing, including the very popular Apache web server, an email server and a whole host of other utilities.
The hardware used is often cheaper and it can usually be put into service on old Intel machines that might otherwise be thrown away. There are also some inexpensive 'white box' options. Even software that you have to pay for often turns out to be less expensive on Linux.
But although compelling as a server choice, Linux has yet to make it as a credible desktop option.
It currently has about 1.5 per cent of this market. Next year may be the year when it actually manages to make an impact here, although this is by no means certain. In order to be a credible PC platform, Linux needs to offer a windowing interface, provide office software and offer integrated email.
But all the pieces seem to be falling into place for it to be able to do this.
Windowing can be provided by two products; Gnome or KDE. The latest edition of Sun Microsystems' Star Office (version 6.0) is good enough or better for word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet et al.
A new web browser, Mozilla, is due for release in April and an open source clone of Microsoft Outlook, Evolution from Ximian, is soon to be ready.
There can be little doubt that some companies - small companies, mostly - will try out this combination. The potential for cost savings that it represents is very large and has been estimated at $250 per PC.
However, a migration of this kind may not be so easy to pull off without running into a series of niggling problems. We would have to see a number of detailed case studies before we were convinced that savings of $250 per PC were realisable.
Our guess is that Linux on the desktop is still too early to call, but on the server it now looks to be unstoppable.
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