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Issue of March 2004 
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Linux and OSS review

A Review of Linux and OSS in 2003

A review of what happened in the Linux and Open Source Software front in 2003, to help you decide the technology to follow for your business. by Mark Feldman

The year 2003 started on a low note for Open Source Software (OSS) as SCO initiated a $3 billion lawsuit against IBM. SCO's lawsuit exposes legal concerns about open source licensing models, as well as the company's development process.

SCO's original complaint was based not on copyright, but on intellectual property. The company says that IBM incorporated SCO trade secrets into Linux, turning it into a 'Unix-killer'. For users who have at least one application deployed on Linux, the issue is about how to assure themselves that developers who contributed to OSS did not include someone else's intellectual property.

The battle cry on the Linux side has been 'show me the code', since SCO has been extremely reluctant to produce proof of its allegations. Given that SCO (formerly Caldera) has itself been distributing the Linux kernel under the General Public Licence (GPL) for many years, the GPL may come into play as a defence.

Although it sounds ominous, few people in the industry seem to think that this lawsuit has merit. For the most part, our readers appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. Only 15 percent of the respondents to our recent Network Computing Asia Tech Review 2003 Survey that use OSS, have stopped deploying new Linux systems due to this lawsuit, and less than 4 percent are taking the additional step of removing it.

In addition, the Gartner Group recommends that users 'do not divulge details on Linux deployments', 'do not permit SCO to audit your premises', and 'do not pay SCO licensing fees unless a legal judgment demands it'.

Leveraging the desktop

Governments around the world investigated the possibility of deploying Linux on the desktop in 2003, and the Thai government has shown it to be an effective tool for negotiating desktop OS prices. Microsoft slashed the price of Windows XP in order to join the Thai government's 'People's PC' project.

Corporations are testing the waters too. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly one-third of our readers are using Linux as a Windows replacement on some or all their desktop PCs. Underlying this trend in 2003 were releases of very stable and Asian language-capable OSS versions of basic utilities like the Microsoft compatible OpenOffice and the Mozilla e-mail and browser suite.

If these are not enough, the free Ximian Desktop from Novell adds scheduling, calendar, contacts, and task list management. For a price, the Ximian 'Connector' allows users to be supported as full Microsoft Exchange clients.

Sun released a comprehensive Java Linux Desktop last December. They also signed a technology licensing agreement with a consortium of companies supported by the Chinese government that can see this technology used on millions of desktops soon.

A New Linux Powerhouse

Novell continued to re-invent itself in 2003 by acquiring well-known Linux company Ximian, with their Desktop, Exchange Connector, and Red Carpet software distribution products.

Novell will continue to support the Ximian-led MONO project, an OSS implementation of Microsoft's .NET Development Framework.

Then in November, backed by an investment from IBM, Novell announced the acquisition of SuSE Linux. Interestingly, as a former owner of Unix, Novell is rumoured to have enough legal protection left to sidestep SCO problems.

This will certainly be the final nail in the coffin for the UnitedLinux consortium, as SuSE will no longer need SCO and TurboLinux. Instead, Novell/SuSE will soon unleash their enterprise knowledgeable worldwide network to compete with Red Hat.

No More Free Lunch

Red Hat focused even further on profits by discontinuing support for its consumer distribution, Red Hat Linux. There will be no more releases after the current version 9, for which support will end on April 30, 2004.

Instead, Red Hat is redirecting Linux 'early adopters' to a download-only community project named 'Fedora' that will have frequent releases.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) version 3, released in October, is now their only stable and supported Linux product line. Binaries must be purchased, but they come with various levels of service and updates via the Red Hat Network, and will be supported for five years. ISV software certifications, like Oracle, will only happen on RHEL, not on Fedora.

Fedora will help to mature technology likely to be used later in RHEL, and is similar to OpenOffice and Sun's Star-Office, Mozilla, and the Netscape browser, as well as other corporate-backed OSS projects.

It remains to be seen whether Fedora will prove reliable and secure enough to be used in production, and whether Red Hat will prevent users who do their own in-house Linux support from buying one copy of RHEL and deploying it on many servers.

Open Source Win NT

Fileserver

Just as Microsoft begins to phase out support for Windows NT, version 3 of Samba, released in September, adds the ability to be a Primary Domain Controller.

This means that Samba can completely replace an entire domain of Windows NT file and print servers. Version 3 also adds long-awaited active directory support in both native and mixed mode domains, plus Unicode support for Asian and other non-English languages.

Linux Moves Forward

The new version 2.6 of the Linux kernel may be released by the time you read this. It adds kernel preemption for better interactive response, improved ACPI support for better power management, and incorporates work from the uClinux project to help Linux scale down to more embedded devices.

For scaling upwards, version 2.6 adds support for large NUMA machines with distributed memory, support for up to 64 GB of memory, and 64-bit block devices for 16 TB file systems. The new kernel also adds extended attributes, the XFS file system, and an improved Windows NTFS driver.

Resources

Gartner Advice to Linux users

http://www3.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=118545

Comparison of New Red Hat Distributions

http://www.redhat.com/software/rhelorfedora/

This article first appeared in Network Computing Asia

 
     
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