Linux-based business-critical servers have found a stable home in the data center and in infrastructure computing applications in organizations of all types. The low-hanging fruit has been harvested; most Linux servers have been installed to handle workloads that traditionally would have run Unix-based operating systems. This application area is rapidly maturing. The major opportunity for ongoing growth is in developing countries.
Linux on the desktop has yet to gain any real market presence. Despite the unrest over Microsoft Windows Vista, the companies that focus on Linux as a business have yet to deliver a go-to-market proposition that is compelling for the consumer, for the retailer, distributors, and original equipment manufacturers. The consumer segment is the fastest growing potential market for Linux-based desktop solutions. The rise of the OLPC and the ASUS Eee PC, together with Microsoft's reaction to them, is proof that the consumer market is opportunity rich.
But will Linux be the platform that delivers just good enough in time to create a paradigm shift from the desktop and laptop to the new-school ultra-mobile, wireless enabled, consumer device that will work transparently the world over providing previously unimaginable access to the all the information that will be sage-guarded, housed, processed, and delivered to you over the grid? We do not know. But we must consider what will become of those who will not, or can not, change their computing practices.
Linux distribution vendors have not made a particularly compelling inroad on the consumer desktop. Some would argue that Linux should never be a consumers' choice, instead they want to see the focus on the business desktop. The trouble is, no Linux distribution has so far been able to deliver the substance of what is required for large-scale corporate adoption. What distribution model will work to get Linux solutions into the hands of consumers, both the in the home market and also the corporate consumer?
The simple fact that few would deny is that every Linux distribution available today is more or less good enough for the majority of consumers. Why then is there no rush to get Linux-based laptops and desktop systems to market? What is the real obstacle that is responsible for holding back the flood-waters of a huge shift away from Microsoft Windows Vista? Is it because it is too difficult to re-educate the consumer? What is holding business back?
Let's speculate about one reason why OEMs are not rushing to ship Linux-based personal computing systems. Perhaps the sale of PC and laptop hardware is not profitable and that the only reason OEMs still sell them is because Microsoft pays market development funds that are the last remaining incentive to do business. I think you would agree that is definitely not the case, but if that were the case there clearly would be no attractiveness in a Linux-based solution.
Alternately, perhaps the commercial Linux distribution vendors just do not understand the market. An OEM would not want to change a comfortable relationship with Microsoft for a multitude of relationships with vendors who do not have a commercially viable business solution.
There are many channel dimensions. OEMs are just a small part of the bigger picture. Retailers sell products to consumers, but to the OEM they sell customer opportunity. This opportunity is expressed through a value that is placed on shelf space, key traffic areas within the retail store, staff competence, staff knowledge and support mechanisms. Getting an OEM to produce a Linux-based PC platform is merely the first step in working the channel to get products moving.
Consumers are not consummate open source technology buffs. Very few will find delight in performing an after-market installation of Linux on a PC or laptop system. The only way to convert them to use Linux is to provide it in a compellingly easy to use packaged form. If there is not way to do this, we shall have to find another market or else keep Linux in the closet. Maybe we should just take satisfaction that Linux is a great learning tool for want-to-be computer scientists. Be aware however, that if there is no market for computer scientists who are skilled in Linux, the future for these people must be somewhere else. Where would that be?
By comparison with the markets and channels to them for desktop computing solutions, the server market is well understood within the Linux world. The channels that service the server market usually employ a direct sale to the consumer model. S erver solutions are commercially viable because workload types can be easily identified , defined and satisfied with well understood technologies and applications.
The Linux Foundation recently commissioned a white paper that has been published by IDC ("The Role of Linux Server and Commercial Workloads," by Al Gillen, Brett Waldman, Elaina Stergiades. April 2008). This paper recognizes that over the past decade Linux has predominantly displaced UNIX in the server operating environment (SOE). The paper correctly identifies the fact that over the next decade Microsoft will aggressively defend its position in the SOE market and thus we can expect an all-out effort to displace Linux-based solutions with new Microsoft offerings.
Given the lack of financial muscle to preserve the Linux market share in the SOE space, we can expect some erosion of market share. The importance of capturing a larger desktop presence in order to defend the SOE market can not be overstated. In the absence of significant desktop growth for Linux, over the next decade we can therefore anticipate some loss of employment of open source developers by the Linux vendors.
This is a good point to reflect on the assertions and questions raised so far by examining some market statistics. The following are an update on what was provided in the Yin and Yang article.
Table 1 presents a summary of US Bureau of Census information showing the distribution of businesses by number of employees. The growth of the US work force between 2002 and 2005 was 3.48%, the number of large businesses ( more than 500 employees) grew by 3.75%, the total number of firms grew by 5%.
Table 1: US Business Distribution by Size1988, 2002 and 2005
|YEAR||DATA TYPE||TOTAL||Number of Employees|
In the Yin and Yang article world GDP was used to factor US businesses demographics to arrive at a world business and server usage estimate. Table 2 provides the most recently published GDP information. A column was added to report the ratio of area GDP to the global GDP. The factor for the US economic GDP contribution has remained almost static, while other countries show marked changes. These figures imply contrary to expectation that Indias' contribution to GDP declined over the past three years. It might be an interesting exercise to explore what the cause may be and to what extent this may bias the assumptions made in Table 3.
Table 2: Global GDP for 2007 (Est)
|US$ Billion||Percent||Global Factor||US$ Billion||Percent||Global Factor|
|Rest of World||17,670||31.84%||3.1||23,085||35.07%||2.9|
Table 3: The Global Server Market
|Company Size||Employees per
|US Number (2002)||Global Factor||Global Number||# Servers||% of
|% of Companies|
|Company Size||Employees per
|US Number (2005)||Global Factor||Global Number||# Servers||% of
|% of Companies|
From Tables 1 and 2 has been derived an estimate of the number of servers that are used in global infrastructure computing. The findings previously reported for 2002 are shown together with the 2005 numbers in Table 3. The average factor shown in the total line equals that shown for the US in Table 2. As was done previously, it has been assumed that compared with global business size distribution, the US has a disproportionate number of large (more than 500 employee and 100-499 employee) businesses, so the factor is therefore lower in this area. It is therefore also assumed that the global ratio of 20-99 employment businesses is lower in the US than elsewhere, thus the factor for that was increased to compensate. Based on the assumptions shown, the total number of infrastructure computing servers has grown from 51.9 million to 54.4 million over three years. It is left as an exercise for others to confirm or dispute these estimates.
Between 2004 and 2008 it has been estimated that world internet usage has grown from 974 million users to 1.355 billion. The indicated growth rate calculates at approximately 8% compound growth per year. The usage growth column in Table 4 shows that most internet usage growth has taken place outside of the US.
Table 4: World Internet Usage Statistics
Population (2008 Est.) (Million)
|Population % of World||Internet Usage, Latest Data (Million)||% Population (Penetration )||World Users %||Usage Growth 2000-2008|
|Latin America / Caribbean||576||8.6%||127||22.1%||9.4%||603.4%|
|Oceania / Australia||34||0.5%||19||56.5%||1.4%||151.6%|
The Netcraft web server survey reported that on October 24, 2005, there were 74.4 million publicly accessible web servers globally. The April 2008 report claims that responses have been received from 165.7 million web servers. This is a significant growth in the number of web sites that are being hosted, however one needs to be careful not to conclude that this parallels the number of physical servers in use. Growth estimates for these are best obtained from IDC server shipment statistics.
It is clear from the world internet usage statistics that there is a significant rate of growth of potential desktop systems users. The growth rate in this area far exceeds the rate of growth of the installed server market and is therefore of primary interest as a means of gaining increased Linux adoption.
Linux has matured rapidly as a platform. It has gained a durable and significant market share in server applications, but penetration into the desktop space remains elusive. At this time it is not at all clear how Linux adoption will gain sustained dominant market share any time in the next decade. It will be interesting to see how the obstacles to desktop adoption will be overcome.
The attractiveness of faster, more powerful, more slick desktop systems has been almost lost. The consumer is content enough with solutions that are good enough, though clearly not perfect. Linux is good enough for the average consumer's desktop, but there are barriers to adoption that need to be overcome. This is becoming a critical hurdle. Some of the obstacles have been commented on in this article in the hope that a bright enterprising new-comer to the game will find a compelling and entrepreneurial solution that will finally deliver Linux-based solutions into the consumer's hands.This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.