Some high-profile Linux adoption stories have circulated lately that feature companies such as Amazon and Intel espousing the wonders of the open-source solution. One crucial fact these stories don't reveal, however, is that these Linux adoptions are replacing proprietary and expensive versions of UNIX, not Windows. And as both Amazon and Intel are quick to point out, neither company has even considered replacing Windows boxes with Linux.
Amazon's story is typical. The company reports that adopting Linux cut its technology costs nearly 25 percent last quarter--a key concern given the current economic climate and Amazon's historic inability to perform financially. "The decline in absolute dollars spent primarily reflects our migration to a Linux-based technology platform that utilizes a less-costly technology infrastructure, as well as general price reductions for data and telecommunications services due to market overcapacity," the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Technology news agencies seized on these comments as a huge win for Linux and, possibly, a huge loss for Windows. What they didn't point out, however, is that Amazon replaced proprietary UNIX servers with Linux, which it uses for its back-end services. Amazon also uses Oracle database software for its e-commerce operations.
Meanwhile, Intel Vice President for Information Technology Doug Busch made comments this week that also hit the radar of the anti-Microsoft press. Busch said that Intel has saved millions of dollars by implementing an intranet application based on Napster-like technology that lets the company inexpensively share streaming-video feeds across the corporation. Busch says the software, which runs on small Intel-based Linux servers, has saved the company $200 million this year. But again, Intel's previous solution ran on massive and expensive UNIX servers, machines that didn't use Intel technology. When asked whether the company would ever consider replacing its Windows machines with Linux, Busch said absolutely not, noting the lack of "robust office packages" on that platform. And Busch threw another wrench into any mass Linux migration by noting that the overall cost of Linux and Windows 2000 is almost identical after you factor in support and maintenance.
Another point these Linux adoption stories fail to mention is the cost of transitioning from Windows to Linux; this cost is the reason so few companies are undertaking such an action. Making the conversion from UNIX to Linux is relatively straightforward; you can easily recompile most versions of UNIX software to run under Linux. But Windows is based on an entirely different technology, and moving between the two environments isn't that straightforward. That's not to say that Linux doesn't have the technical credentials to be successful in certain market segments--indeed, that success has already happened--but the open-source OS will have a hard time overtaking Windows anytime soon.
The numbers corroborate this statement. According to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), Linux owns 24 percent of the server market, whereas Windows own about 38 percent of the server market. And Linux will continue in the number-two position at least through 2005, the company says. On the desktop, Linux's share of the market is so small that it can't be measured, whereas Windows owns about 88 percent of the market. Most tellingly, however, is the fact that most of Linux's market-share gains during the past few years have come at the expense of proprietary UNIX solutions, not Windows.