The Linux operating system has been used by computer die-hard operators since the very early 1990's. Now, more than a decade later, many computer network administrators are beginning to view the open source, or public, software as a viable alternative to products like Microsoft's Windows.
Started by computer programmer Linus Torvalds in 1991, the Linux operating system is now beginning to seriously catch the eye of the business world, which is looking at it as more than a niche product for hobbyists.
Unlike other business-oriented software supplied by companies like Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, Linux is "open source" software, which means it is freely available on the Internet so computer programmers around the world can develop upgrades.
Many organizations, citing better performance and lower cost, are beginning to move over to Linux for their so-called "back end" operations, like servers that run internal networks or websites.
Still, the free and open-source software is often criticized as a major drawback of Linux.
Michael Robertson is the Founder and CEO of "Lindows", a company that creates Linux-based applications. Microsoft is currently suing his company for using the term "Lindows" because it closely resembles their "Windows" trademark.
He says the open sourcing is an attraction because the global effort being spent on the software's development counteracts Microsoft's financial resources. "Microsoft has a monopoly today, and they have a product that they've had many many years to work on and make a it very rich product," he says. "So for any company to come along that wants to compete, they simply can't compete. And Microsoft now has over $40 billion of cash in the bank, and that much economic clout. So, what's required is a global push. And that's what Linux, and open source part allows the global community, to all get behind a product and to make it better."
Maggie Wilderotter is Microsoft's Senior Vice President for Business Strategy. She compares Linux to a free puppy, which in the long run, like Linux, will cost more money. "I think you have to look at the total cost of ownership. It's not just about the entry costs. A lot of people focus on Linux being free, but it's free like a puppy is free," she says. "Someone gives you a puppy there's a lot of maintenance associated with taking care of that puppy over that puppy's lifetime. It's not necessarily cheap. I think what we try to do is look at the total cost of ownership for a customer solution. And the value that's associated with what that ownership entails. And have customers have choice in making that choice choosing the Microsoft platform."
Not surprisingly, many computer industry insiders disagree with Ms. Wilderotter. One of those is CJ Rayhill, Chief Operating Officer of O'Reilly and Associates, which publishes books and organizes conferences on computers.
She says that from her experience and by talking with CIO's Chief Information Officers of different companies, the overall cost of Linux is cheaper than Windows. "And I would also say that I just think this is the next marketing push for Microsoft. They've failed at trying to attack open source directly and now their next big marketing by-line, if you will, is the TCO or the Total Cost of Ownership for Linux is higher than Microsoft. I don't believe it. I haven't experienced it. I know a lot of people CIO wise in the business world that are using these environments that don't believe it either," she says. "So, you know, it's a judgement call. I do think there's a bit of marketing hype behind that [Microsoft] comment."
Another alternative operating system is Unix, that was pioneered by the Utah based SCO Group. This past week the SCO Group warned fifteen hundred of the world's largest companies they could be held liable for using Linux. They allege that some of their proprietary Unix programming code has been copied into Linux systems.