Linux at the Tipping Point
When the economy takes a dive there are always plenty of casualties in the marketplace, and classical economic theory tells us that expensive goods suffer the most. When the going gets tough, consumers substitute lower-cost alternatives.
But that doesn't mean they have to compromise on quality. Just because a product has a premium brand and commands a higher price doesn't necessarily mean it's better. You can pay five times as much for a packet of Tylenol as you would for generic acetaminophen, but either will get rid of a headache equally well.
So it's not surprising that 65 percent of IT professionals recently polled by IDC said they plan to increase Linux server workloads by 10 percent or more this year. IDC carried out the poll for Novell, and the draft results were reported in InformationWeek.
Another thing IDC's poll found was that "forty-nine percent [of respondents] said they expect Linux will be their primary server platform within five years."
InformationWeek also said, "Asked what factors would accelerate Linux deployments, respondents said 'reducing costs and stronger interoperability with Windows' as the two top issues ... Given a chance to migrate away from Unix, the respondents often said they would choose Linux as the replacement based on its low support costs."
This suggests that open source software is now widely perceived as a low-cost but viable alternative to proprietary systems, despite the FUD some closed vendors have tried to spread over the past few years.
This is backed up by Matt Asay, a VP at open source content management software maker Alfresco, with a telling observation on his Cnet blog
Two years ago a Fortune 500 company approached Alfresco (my employer), and ultimately concluded that they were too conservative and open source was too risky to move forward. A week ago the same people contacted me to say that times have changed, and now it's considered too risky to not be using open source due to its potential cost savings.
Recessions can be disastrous for businesses and individuals, but because they disturb the status quo dramatically they also present tremendous opportunities for companies offering different or innovative ways of doing business.
The likely losers in this particularly severe economic downturn are proprietary Unix and many of Microsoft's server offerings. In the future, we may well look back and see it as an important tipping point when Linux and open source server software finally became the prudent corporate norm.
Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.