Only a few short blocks from the site of ground zero in lower Manhattan, and in an economy struggling to fight its way out of a recession, last week’s LinuxWorld conference was a more subdued event than in previous years.
But the quieter atmosphere could not hide the fact that Linux has achieved a level of commercial acceptance in the mainstream business world that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago.
Visitors to the trade show, which took place at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center, heard how Linux is in use for mission-critical applications at companies like Wall Street powerhouses Salomon Smith Barney and Credit Suisse First Boston, and retailers L.L. Bean, Amazon.com and Boscov’s Department Stores.
Other industries, including Hollywood, were also well-represented at the show. Representatives from both Pixar and Dreamworks SKG talked about their use of Linux to produce films. Eighty percent of digital animation firms are now using Linux, according to Jeff White, a software development manager at Dreamworks SKG. Dreamworks used Linux to produce the movie Shrek, as well as its upcoming features Sinbad and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
The interest in Linux from users is driving vendors to pay attention to the platform, a message made clear by Sanjay Kumar, CEO of Computer Associates, which announced at the show that it now has 54 products running on Linux, including its flagship Unicenter data center management suite. In the past 12 months, “Computer Associates has seen a tremendous increase in interest in Linux,” Kumar told conference attendees. “Half the customers I talked to last year asked about Linux.”
A Billion Dollar Return
Other large vendors were also at the show in full force, including Intel, Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, whose CEO, Carly Fiorina, delivered one of the keynote talks.
The conference’s most remarkable sign of Linux’ growing success was IBM’s statement that it has already recouped the $1 billion it invested in Linux last year. Much of that revenue comes from an unexpected quarter: sales of IBM mainframes running Linux. According to Bill Zeitler, Senior Vice President of IBM’s server group, who gave one of the show keynotes, thanks to Linux, IBM’s mainframe business grew 13% in 2001 — the first time it has shown revenue growth in more than a dozen years.
The growing importance of mainframe-class systems to Linux was visible on the show floor, where IBM was displaying a new Linux-only mainframe, code-named Raptor. Across the aisle, Marlboro, Mass.-based startup Egenera Inc. showed off its new BladeFrame system, which runs Linux on up to 96 Intel processors in one box.
A Critical Juncture for Linux
One of the show’s most important announcements was the release of a new revision of the Linux Standards Base, or LSB, whose goal is to unify Linux and prevent the type of splintering that fragmented the Unix market in the 1980s. “Linux is at a critical juncture in terms of unifying around a single standard,” said Ransom Love, CEO of Orem, Utah-based Caldera Systems, which produces the Caldera Linux distribution.
In the works quietly for more than two years, the LSB provides guidelines for Linux distributions that ensure that software vendors writing programs for Linux won’t have to create for dozens of different versions. Red Hat, SuSe, TurboLinux, Mandrake and other companies producing Linux distributions all lined up to support the LSB, which is now under the aegis of the non-profit Free Standards Group.
In a sign of the importance of the new standard to customers, Evan Bauer, Chief Technology Officer of finance house Credit Suisse First Boston, announced that beginning next year, his company will not use any version of Linux that does not meet the Linux Standard Base standard.