Linux has flourished in the server market in the last three years. There are a number of reasons, notably the dotcom explosion of 2000 and 2001, which saw many companies implement rapid deployments of web and file servers.
The low cost and low hardware requirements of Linux made it a logical choice, although a large percentage of businesses continued to invest in Windows NT-based servers, despite security concerns over IIS, and in Unix solutions such as Solaris.
Support for network protocols; freely available open source software tools, such as the file and print service software Samba; and web server software such as Apache, have proved very attractive to organisations seeking ways to lower hardware and software costs, while still working with reliable, robust and customisable tools.
According to figures from researcher IDC, Linux accounts for 27 per cent of server software sales, compared with 41 per cent for Windows NT, 17 per cent for Novell Netware, and 15 per cent for Unix, MacOS and other solutions.
Data from UK Webworks also suggests that Linux has overtaken NT as the dominant server operating system for internet-visible servers, thanks to its good reputation and the low cost of a Linux/Apache web server combination.
In web server technology, Apache has a significant lead over IIS across all platforms, with about 60 per cent of the market.
This is predominantly because Apache is free, but also because of continued security questions surrounding IIS. Although these security problems have diminished with more service packs for Windows NT4 and Windows 2000, many companies continue to have their doubts.
Linux technology is being employed in an increasing variety of ways. The main concentration is in file, print and web serving, all areas where Linux has been strong since its inception.
But it is also becoming more widely used for email and instant messaging, graphical design and enterprise applications.
The latter represents the small, but growing use of Linux on the desktop. While the operating system still does not appeal to many desktop consumer or corporate users, the development of applications, in particular web browsing, communications and office productivity applications, continues to increase.
The user breakdown for Linux shows that 48 per cent of corporate users work in organisations of 100 people or less, illustrating its popularity among smaller, more cost-conscious companies.
About 23 per cent of adopters are companies with up to 1,000 users, while 12 per cent are in the 1,000-5,000 user category.
Most encouraging for the platform is its deployment in large organisations of 5,000 users or more. This figure stands at a healthy 17 per cent, and represents its uses both as a visible server and in networking applications and appliances.
It certainly looks as if Linux is here to stay. Data from analyst Gartner suggests that by 2007 the total Linux market will surpass $9bn in value.
For a platform based on free distribution and free access to code, analyst predictions suggest that it will become one of the more lucrative corners of enterprise computing.
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