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The Linux Story: Indian version

Here is an analysis of the course Linux is taking in the Indian market and the applications for which it is being used.

A survey by IDC predicts that Linux would emerge as the leading OS for servers in the next three years in India. However, this prediction does not really show the true uptake of Linux at the end user level. There is some deployment of Linux at the server level but it has not yet reached the desktop.

Today most Indian enterprises are using Linux as an add-on to the existing platforms. Although companies like Oracle and IBM expect an increase in corporate interest for Linux deployment, it is still being used as a departmental and file or print server rather than as a mission critical database server.

Over the past few years, the little penguin called Linux has been steadily climbing towards the tip of the operating system iceberg. Free access to its source code and its openness has led the developer community to go for it in a very big way. At various points of time, Linux has been hailed as the next generation platform to take on more traditional and established Unix and Windows NT/ 2000 platforms.

But how has the penguin traveled lately and what is the course it has embarked upon? According to a survey by IDC, Linux is only second to Windows NT with 24 per cent market share as against NT's 36 per cent. The traditional Novell NetWare has been pegged at only 19 per cent. Ever since the launch of this operating system with an open source code, it has been a movement, which has initiated the formation of the Linux community to push this technology. Most major Unix supporting vendors have also adopted Linux and are working ways out to make the two compatible with each other — Hewlett Packard is one such company. It is aggressively pushing both Unix and Linux in the market.

According to an HP official, Linux will be popular in two areas namely as appliance servers and as a development tool. SGI (Silicon Graphics) is another company that is very clear on its push to Linux in the Indian market. Says Avinash Fotedar, National Marketing manager, SGI India, "The popularity of Linux is growing. This is evident from the huge numbers who participate at various Linux shows and seminars across the country. Most major hardware vendors have clearly stated their support for Linux, if not in the international context, at least in India. SGI for one has made the commitment to Linux very clear both nationally and internationally. And we are contributing a lot to make Linux an enterprise-ready OS."

Even companies like SCO and Oracle see that Linux has a major market in India. According to Oracle's study, more versions of Oracle8i for Linux get picked up by developers than Oracle8i for Windows. R.N Raja, Country Manager, SCO India, also says that Linux is one OS technology that it is seriously working on in the country. Caldera, the company which bought over SCO's software and professional services divisions, is also seriously pushing Linux in the country.

Furthermore, Red Hat also recently set up its office in India, showing the growing popularity of Linux in the Indian market. The reason for this is evident in the words of Bob Bishop, CEO, SGI Inc., "Formation of the open source (Linux) community is very good for the Indian software developers. As they join this open source movement, they will no longer have the fear of being controlled from abroad." The software developers in this community can function at the same level as other developers worldwide, he adds. Today, most software developers use the Linux platform to test their development projects. In fact, quite a few software developers feel that Linux at the background offers a great boost to their projects.

A survey by IDC predicts that Linux would emerge as the leading OS for servers in the next three years in India.

However, this prediction does not really show the true uptake of Linux at the end user level. There is some deployment of Linux at the server level but it has not yet reached the desktop. Most users shy away from Linux as there are very few applications today that run on it. Projects such as the Mozilla Web browser, the Nautillus file manager, the KOffice suite, are late in bringing out the stable versions. Configuration is a problem, while features that are standard in windows are not there yet. At the desktop, Linux can easily consume up to 70MB of RAM, thus barring Linux's entry at the desktop level.

Says Vinod Gupta, GM (IT), JK Corp Ltd., New Delhi, "We definitely find Linux interesting. We are even using it as our mail server but the main hitch in adopting Linux full fledged is that there are not enough value added solutions on it." This also shows that Linux is maturing at the server level in India. Defending Fotedar explains, "It is true that there are not enough applications, but with every passing day, more and more applications are being released on the Linux platform. Already Linux is driving the Internet phenomenon across the world and it has begun to have its effects in India as well."

According to a study by IDC, 42 per cent of Linux systems are running as web servers and 24 per cent as web infrastructure platforms. Only about 10 per cent of Linux are running as enterprise class applications such as commercial databases. In reality, Linux has seen many takers in the Indian ISP and ASP markets, especially in the B and C category ISPs. The reason being flexibility, scalability and low cost of maintenance.

Today most Indian enterprises are using Linux as an add on to the existing platforms. Although companies like Oracle and IBM expect an increase in corporate interest for Linux deployment, it is still being used as a departmental and file or print server rather than as a mission critical database server. Says Gupta "The technology is very good but we still would like to use traditional NT or Unix for our mission critical activities."

Giving a view on why Linux is being used at the lower level, Fotedar avers, "SGI believes that Linux certainly has a bright future. In fact it is the OS of tomorrow. However, it is unfair to compare different OSs that are in different stages of maturity. Obviously, Windows NT has a larger user base, larger application base and hence is a strong contender in the market place. While Unix has distinct advantages at the high-end and mission critical computing level, Linux is fast becoming the choice for low end computing."

Thus as is seen, the penguin has come a long way. There have emerged more and more takers for it at the developer level, it is slowly gaining entry into the enterprise too. For a price sensitive country like India, Linux can offer a cost-effective option, but it has to evolve further to enter the hallowed portals of high-end computing. While the Internet definitely has acted as the catalyst for Linux, it will depend on the developers and Linus Torvalds to break the near duopoly of Unix and Windows. NM

For more information contact Priyanka Bhattacharya at priyanka_b@email.com

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