November 22, 2002

Enterprise-level software vendors can no longer ignore Linux

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

A quote from a LUG email list: " manager has (finally) given me the go ahead to research moving all of our current Unix operations to Linux." The alternative, says the person who sent this email, is Windows. The company in question* has a stack of (leased) AIX RS6000 servers. As a cost-cutting measure, they plan to drop the lease when it comes up for renewal. The engineering staff people who use the AIX servers are resisting a move to Windows and are investigating Linux as an alternative -- and in the process, they may need to find at least one new software vendor because a critical application they use is not currently available for Linux.

This is not a small company, but a "name brand" giant whose logo you see on the shelves of mass-market retailers worldwide. I own more than a few of their products, and you probably own one or two yourself.

Now back to the email:

"All that said, I'm looking for advice on running the [modelling program] code on Linux. I know that the makers of [the program] are currently running both interactive [program name] and the [program's] code on Linux in their labs, but won't release it to the public because there is more money to be made on the Windows platform.

"In lieu of this, I am also looking for different Linux based model file plotting solutions that take the model to post script format."

The company's financial people who want to give up the RS6000 leases have nothing against a move to Linux instead of Windows. Both run on generic/cheap X86 hardware, and if anything they prefer Linux to Windows because of licensing and administration costs.

The only problem is one software vendor -- that apparently has ported its product to Linux for internal use but refuses to release that port to end users.

"The customer is always right" may apply in many businesses, but in this case, in the software business, it is not necessarily so.

The problem for this vendor is that it has competitors. Its products are excellent, but there are alternatives to it. And suddenly a customer that would have happily kept on using the tools to which its engineers have gotten accustomed -- if it could purchase a Linux version -- is going to go shopping for a possible replacement.

Perhaps, in the end, the customer will settle on Windows boxes instead of Linux and that will stop any thoughts of finding a new software vendor. But this is a big risk to take.

We've heard reports that companies as diverse as Wal~Mart and AOL now tell all enterprise-level hardware and software vendors that if their products aren't Linux-compatible they needn't bother calling.

Linux still suffers from a lack of specialized desktop applications, including games, and many commercial software vendors are not yet convinced that the desktop Linux market is large enough to be worth serving.

On the enterprise level, though, smart software vendors can no longer ignore Linux -- especially if their wares can be replaced by products from other vendors that do run on the Linux boxes that are so rapidly springing up in corporate server rooms all over the world.

*The email is real. The company is rea l. The situation is real. Names have been deleted because this sort of question on the LUG email lists I monitor has become so common that it isn't fair to single out any particular vendor -- or enterprise-level customer.

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