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VNU Net: SCO comes to the open-source party

Jun 30, 2000, 23:46 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jason Compton)

By Jason Compton, VNU Net

Linux backers say it's only a matter of time before traditional Unix vendors join their open-source party.

Linux and Windows NT/2000 continue to squeeze Unix market share. Many pundits will tell you that life is becoming a little too interesting for the old guard. Michael Dell for instance, was spotted in London recently, promoting his vision that Unix will give way to Linux in the not-too-distant future.

Now word has leaked from semi-private briefings that Unix stalwart Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) will release its own Linux distribution by the end of this year. While some are asking what this will mean for the future of Unix and Linux, the real question is: what took it so long?

The writing has been on the wall for some time that SCO was going to evolve, if not into a pure Linux company, then at least into a major Linux player. The firm couldn't afford to let Linux pass it by.

SCO's sales staff have been putting on brave faces, downplaying Linux momentum with talk of UnixWare and OpenServer's market-tested stability, the promise of Monterey, and the strength of its retail channel. But the company's strategic planners were casting the deciding vote. SCO has already made significant investments in the Linux future, with holdings in TurboLinux and a pre-IPO stake in Caldera, as well as LinuxMall.com.

Serious applications
Linux is more than an investment hedge, for SCO has announced that Linux will be a supported server platform for its flagship Tarantella application-hosting system. And the company's professional services division will cheerfully help you with a Linux deployment, because installation and support is where the money is, rather than upfront purchase costs.

Other major Unix players have danced in and out of Linux, with IBM shipping Aix and Linux side-by-side, Sun Microsystems buying into the Linux application market with StarOffice, and so forth. But SCO has been perched so close to the edge of the Linux pool that jumping in seemed inevitable.

The specifics of 'SCO Linux', for lack of an official brand name, are still unavailable, as SCO has not yet acknowledged that the cat is out of the bag. But it may not really matter what's inside the box. Sure, the technical experience and expertise of 20-plus years of Unix development will certainly provide a boost to Linux development. SCO is likely to target better clustering and multi-processor operation, and an opportunity to leverage Tarantella to cement Linux as a top-tier choice for application-hosting.

Linux as a sales tool
The real significance of SCO entering the Linux market may lie not in the developer cubicles, but in the sales force. Linux vendors have learned the ins and outs of the Unix market well enough to sell against Unix, but they lack a history.

SCO knows how to sell Unix, and has done rather well at it for some time, especially in the lower-end and embedded areas of the market.

Being able to wrap knowledge around a Linux offering may not make Red Hat, SuSE, and Caldera irrelevant overnight, but it could be enough to change the way enterprises think about moves in IT infrastructure, with both sides of the Unix coin being represented by one vendor. Watch for the fork police to get edgy before SCO even has a chance to formally announce its intentions. Still, it's not unthinkable that SCO could throw a new ratchet into the unified code puzzle.

If SCO plans to go beyond simply rebadging a Caldera or TurboLinux build, and slapping a Tarantella Express demo version on top, don't be surprised if it considers proposing some changes to make Linux closer to its vision of what an operating system should be.

SCO is a card-carrying sponsor of Linux International, which theoretically means it should want to play nicely with all the other developers and avoid causing a source tree split. But friends are friends, and business is business. And this may be the first day of the rest of Linux's life.

Update: Linux product and industry news

AMD pushes embedded Linux
Having jump-started its desktop business with the heavy-duty Athlon processor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is hoping that Linux will stir up enthusiasm in its embedded devices business. In partnership with embedded Linux company Lineo, AMD will bundle the Embedix Linux variant in its embedded processor developer kits. AMD's embedded processor line consists of two basic product families: ageing and retired desktop processors, such as the K6-2, and integrated processor/chipset microcontrollers in the Elan family.

While AMD's system of farming out slower, market-tested processors to the small devices market is cost-effective, it hasn't made the company the toast of the town. Bundling a ready-made embedded Linux could help the development community embrace AMD's more humble silicon.

Plan 9 For Everyone!
Operating system completists have something new to be thankful for. Plan 9, the operating system from Lucent (originally developed by the now defunct Bell Labs in the late 1980s), and arguably more classic than the film from which it adopted its name, has been released as open source. Lucent opted to mint its own open source licence, (the 'Plan 9 Licence') although it is fairly easy to read and liberal in its terms. In short, modifications must be published as open source, although developers are free to market and sell their derivative works of the Plan 9 source, subject to certain naming and trademark rules.

The new version of Plan 9 is described as a 'snapshot' rather than a true 3 stable release. Lucent has axed the 1995-vintage 'Mothra' web browser, but added an inter-process communications system (dubbed 'plumbing'), an IMAP4 (Exchange) mail server, and SSH encryption.

Unlike Linux, a grassroots effort to replicate and then expand beyond Unix, Plan 9 was an attempt at an evolutionary step beyond Unix, but with much of the same look and feel.

Plan 9's open source code offers developers a chance to reflect on the evolution of operating systems, as well as emerging distributed computing networks. Plan 9 was designed with distributed processing in mind, at a time when processor cycles were considerably more scarce.

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