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A True Contender Now

OK, back to Linux here for a moment -- that platform that has morphed from a way to show fear and loathing of Microsoft into a stable enterprise services delivery method. For servers, the facts are clear: It works, it's in solid use, and the overall market share of Unix/Linux in servers is likely to grow 10 percent over the next four years, according to market researchers IDC. That's certainly not coming from hatred of Microsoft (although maybe it is an avoidance of its licensing schemes), but rather from proven cost control and stability. Moreover, Linux stability is finding its way past servers into middleware, desktop, and the data center as a whole, making it easier for IT managers to deploy a soup-to-nuts Linux installation that gets the work done and bolsters the bottom line.

Key markets are pointing the way. Linux is de rigueur in financial services (much to the chagrin of Sun, who has lost a lot of Solaris market share there and is now much more open itself as a result) and government, and Carol Stafford, IBM's vice president of worldwide Linux sales, told me last week that overseas markets -- particularly Asia -- are another burgeoning area for enterprise Linux server deployment. Stafford notes that certified Western platforms such as Red Hat and SUSE Linux are even stealing a march in China on Red Flag, that nation's leading indigenous Linux provider -- creating more opportunity for Western business in the server-hungry Chinese market.

All of which explains the eager turnout at last week's LinuxWorld Expo. Enterprises like the power of choice -- it's good for the budget to have options in the server market. So, added to the ongoing hardware battle that goes all the way from the chip war between Intel and AMD to the mainframe server lines of such comoanies as IBM, HP and Unisys, we can now add a real software tussle between open source/Unix and Windows Server. And make no mistake, Microsoft still has the dominant market share, plenty of room to grow itself, and a focus on the explosive server market. But it's game on in server software -- and you, the customer, are the likely winner of this play.