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More Than Anyone Thought

Centeris has shipped its Likewise Management Suite, which I wrote about back in the fall when the nascent company had announced an open beta period. At that point, Centeris knew it had most of its developmental ducks in order and wanted some final feedback before going gold.
Smart move: Centeris's brain trust says that in having potential customers evaluate the package, which simplifies management of Linux servers under a Windows Server environment, it learned a few things. One is the main thing it had hoped to confirm: There's a real appetite for a tool such as Likewise that makes running a heterogeneous setup easier without having to jury-rig a way to make Windows Server handle Linux machines. "We had about 800 downloads of the beta," says Centeris CEO Barry Crist. "We were getting messages back saying things like 'Thanks for taking the thorn out of my paw.'"

Of course, an 800-company beta gives Centeris salespeople a nice database to work with off the bat, but it also reveals that, much like "foreign cars" that are partly built in America, the "market share" of Windows Server and Linux may be a lot more malleable than we think. For any number of reasons -- cost, platform strength, specific tools that work better under one platform than the other, and (not least) administrator experience -- companies are going to be interested in mixed server installations. Centeris VP of product development Manny Vellon says the company figures there are probably about a million Windows Server admins in the world, far more than Linux; shipping software that lets them use Linux without having to go back to school, so to speak, is a potentially great business niche.

Another thing Centeris stumbled upon is perhaps more surprising: Potential customers were not just running commercial Linux packages such as Red Hat Enterprise Server or Novell SUSE Linux, but were also taking advantage of such flavors as Fedora Core, Debian, and Xandros. Keep in mind that Likewise is positioned for commercial enterprises, ranging from midsized businesses to large enterprises. If enterprises of any size beyond tiny are using uncertified, unsupported Linux as their server platforms, that says a lot about both the wish to keep expenses down and the level of development on core Linux. Fedora Core is, of course, essentially Red Hat in an open form, but nonetheless the willingness to bet a company's platform on unsupported Linux is as firm a confirmation of Linux's general maturity as anything else I've heard lately.