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In the server market, the eventual dominance of Linux seems a foregone conclusion. Michael Tiemann, Red Hat’s vice-president for open-source affairs, said,”Unix is already defeated, and there’s really nothing Microsoft can do either. It’s ours to lose”. Of course Microsoft, which refused all interview requests for this article, sees thing differently. But surveys form market research firm IDC indicate that in the server market, Linux revenues are growing more than 40% per year, versus less than 20% per year for Windows. Unix, meanwhile, is declining.
Technologically, Windows and proprietary Unix systems, such as Sun’s Solaris, still have some advantages over Linux. But Linux is widely considered to be faster, easier to maintain, and more secure than Windows. As for Solaris,”Sun is very schizophrenic,” observed Tiemann.” There are dean too.”
Sun recently decided to “open-source” Solaris, but most observers feel that that decision has come too late. (Sun, naturally, demurs. “Open sourcing Solaris is a huge step forward,” says Simon Phipps, Sun’s chief technology evangelist.)
When Tiemann was asked whether Microsoft could recover control of the server market if windows went open-source, he said no. “Windows is a proprietary, big company product,” he said. “It isn’t modular or clean enough for outsiders t understand or work on, and its too big.”
Battling for desktop supremacy
In the desktop market, Linux’s progress is more difficult to gauge. There is sharp disagreement about how quickly open-source operating systems and productivity programs colonising PCs.
IDC estimates that Linux holds about 3% of global desktop PC market and that its share will double by 2008 – Red Hat, Novell, Linspire, and others offer desktop Linux packages, and you can now buy Linux desktops and laptops from many computer retailers, including, interestingly, Wal-Mart in the United States.
The Firefox browser, which runs on both Windows and Linux already holds more than 5% of the world browser market.
And there is OpenOffice. In one of its quixotic attempts to snap at Microsoft’s heels, Sun decided in late 1990s to purchase and then “open-source” a small German competitor to Microsoft Office, just as Linux was starting to destroy Sun’s Unix business.
OpenOffice runs on both Windows and Linux and though presently a tiny player, is increasingly being adopted by individuals and businesses worldwide. Conversely, in the last quarter of calendar of 2004, Microsoft’s revenues from Office and related software declined 3% relative to the year before, according to Micorsoft’s publicly released financial statements. Of course, Microsoft Office makes use of proprietary document formats, and OpenOffice reads them only imperfectly.( for this article, some documents were sent back and forth between the two suites; no data was lost, but formatting often suffered.)
And Linux still lags Windows badly in support for the thousands of peripheral devices available for personal computers, in the number of applications that run on it, and its ability to work with Palm and BlackBerry devices.
But for simple things, OpenOffice works, and its compatibility with Microsoft products is improving.