April 2000

by Phil Hughes

As a geek who became a magazine publisher, it feels strange to write what sounds like a Business and Finance column. I haven't changed, but the Linux community certainly has. If you don't believe this, ask around and see how many geeks you know who bought Andover, Cobalt, Corel, Red Hat or VA Linux stock.

This year has already started out with a bang for the Linux community. First, there is a rumor that the reason Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft to become its Chief Software Architect is Linux-related. Okay, maybe “rumor” is too strong a word, but the number-two reason according to Salon Magazine is that Bill needed more time to learn Linux.

While I don't believe this is 100% true, things have changed for Microsoft. Between the Department of Justice and Linux on the OS level, Microsoft has been forced into a competitive arena. In the applications arena, Sun's purchase of StarOffice and making it freely available offers a difficult-to-match price point. I expect Microsoft will still have a lot of customers, but it is nice to see them having to work harder to attract new users.

The influx of capital into the Linux market is amazing: about $100 million between Turbo Linux, SuSE and Caldera Systems. Also, we see interesting players: some of Caldera's money came from Sun Microsystems.

Turbo Linux's investors make up another interesting list: Dell, Compaq, NEC, SCO, Toshiba, et al. For anyone who has tried to buy a Toshiba computer without MS Windows, this is fairly surprising. And just a year or two ago, SCO was telling us we could trade in our copy of Linux to upgrade to SCO UNIX.

Another interesting company is TiVo, Inc., profiled in last month's LJ. The quick summary is they have created a Personal TV Receiver, a Linux-based system that acts like the world's smartest VCR, recording up to 30 hours of TV programs on a hard disk. Why is TiVo hot? First, Phillips is making the systems, so we have a major manufacturer behind this “Linux and your TV” effort. Second, TiVo secured a pact with Blockbuster to do video-on-demand.

There's more. Macromedia will likely open source their flash player. Transmeta (see “Stop the Presses”) has announced their Crusoe chip. Huge investments have been made in Linuxcare. The Caldera IPO is happening.

Linux has grown up. It is finally being recognized as something that solves problems, not just for computer geeks, but also for the mainstream. In the eyes of businesspeople, Linux is finally more than a web server.

My prediction is this is just the beginning. More companies like TiVo will adopt embedded Linux in the mass market. While Internet Appliances (IAs) will be based on other platforms, a majority of the IAs will likely run Linux—it has the functionality and the right price.

The acceptance of Linux in the embedded market adds to Linux's success in the server market. When people access Linux-based web servers from their Linux-based IA, they are getting a strong message that Linux, not Microsoft, is bringing them technology.

I hate to just conclude we won, but it seems like we are there. Linux is marketing itself these days. Geeks believe in it, embedded-systems developers believe in it, and the general public has gone from not knowing it exists to seeing it as a viable answer for their needs. I'm not sure if my next toaster or car will run Linux, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened.

Oh, and Bill: if that point in Salon Magazine was right, please stop by. I will be happy to give you a copy of our new Linux Command Summary.

email: phil@ssc.com

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