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Re-UNIfied Unix: East Meets West in Linux

by Paul Ferris

Linux has become the “IBM-compatible” stamp of approval for the
dawning open source age. The change (predicted by Eric Raymond,

here
, over a year ago) is happening all around us, and a speed
that in comparison to the changes in Unix of the past, that don’t
just nullify the “Linux will fragment” argument — they make belief
in it something akin to the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus. Here I
must apologize to VA Linux for being so “innovative” with one of
their slogans — I love the T-Shirt, though.

It’s not just the “Linux will fragment” thing
not happening — it’s the “– just like the Unices
did before it.” part. You see, Linux isn’t fragmenting, no, rather,
the wave is going the other direction.

Unix is unfragmenting all around us. IBM’s new AIX product
(controversy aside, the joke is that it’s got so much GNU in it
that Richard Stallman’s bugging them to change the name to
GNU/AIX). The journaling file systems under the GPL by SGI and IBM.
SGI’s donation of OpenGL. Some of the BSDs having Linux execution
compatibility layers. Sun having Linux binary compatibility in
places. GNOME and KDE desktops supplanting CDE.

It’s happening quietly. It’s happening quickly.

It’s not to hard to imagine this time next year, a dose of
*nix’s running about with little “GNU/Linux compatible” stickers on
the boxes. OK, hardly anybody drops down to Best Buy to pick up the
latest copy of HP-UX, Sun Solaris or IBM AIX, but it’s not a big
stretch to imagine it happening sometime very soon.

Note: I hope somebody in the marketing departments of these
Unices are paying attention. You may not have thought about the
aspect of marketing a commodity server product before, but now
actually may be a good time to get the ball rolling.

The fact of the matter is that a vacuum of good, stable server
products with good, knowledgeable staff to back them does exist.
People in IS departments, setting up web and file servers for
example, like good support. I for one can’t imagine that they
wouldn’t consider a name like HP, Sun, or IBM if the server product
existed to do what the need of the day was.

These people today go out and buy expensive, often unstable,
proprietary solutions that are clumsy to set up, and worse than
that, lead down a path where the complexity to move forward beyond
the small task of the day (setting up a mail server for 10 people,
for example) gets downright ugly — fast.

A capable Unix or Linux, coupled with a capable support staff,
configured to do a few of these commodity operations and with some
clearly marketed bullet-points on the box — I believe the day is
coming fast.

Here’s a crazy example: A StarOffice deployment server for the
department. It would run a StarOffice control center on one
persons’ desktop. This vaporware product would allow a whole
network to simply run/install/upgrade StarOffice without the hassle
of running about with CDs in hand. ASP technology is cool and may
work on the Internet/intranet, but a lot of department managers
still have the idea in their heads that a program has to load and
run locally to work properly.

The
Open Days Are Just Beginning

The reunification of Unix is upon us. Unix today clearly
occupies the high ground of enterprise class computing, but nothing
says it can’t take back some of the territory that is its rightful
domain. Unstable, proprietary server solutions are a headache for
many IT managers. While Linux right now has the potential to be
there, the idea that Unix is not a good fit in these areas as well
or that Linux is somehow going to take this area without some
serious marketing and support staff — both ideas are unsound.

As Unix reunifies around Linux there exists an untapped
potential — the commodity server product space. Much of the
marketing work for these products has actually been done, it’s
simply a matter of “innovation” (using the term in the loosest of
senses) if you get my drift.

Whether or not the Unix vendors see things this way or not, some
savvy Linux vendors already are working toward that point. It’s
already apparent when you look at boxes of Suse or Mandrake — the
commodity aspects and the way I see my NT-centric friends
“pirating” copies of Red Hat. I even had one of them recently offer
to burn me a copy of a CD, like it was hard for me to get or
something. He also shared with me that he’d gotten the whole thing
off of eBay for a song, and was running it on his file server at
home.

Wow. Somehow the notion of “pirating” copies of GPL’d software
strikes me as ludicrously hilarious. Gee, I can only hope it gets
wildly out of control soon. I would call the SPA (Software
Publishers Association), and try to put a stop to it, but only for
the entertainment value.

IBM, HP, and Sun, I hope you’re listening. The market is swaying
in your direction, and you have a chance to leverage your support
staff and your enterprise class products in ways that were likely
limited in the past. Linux, Samba, Apache, MySQL, and other GPL’d
products provide market opportunities to you that were closed and
untapped just a short time ago.

Other proprietary vendors are scared scriptless of the GNU way
of life, as it threatens their market-view. But I can see it
clearly — Re-UNI-fied — Unix has the potential to come back with
a vengeance.


Paul Ferris is the
Director of Technology for the Linux and Open Source
Channel
at internet.com, and
has been covering Linux and Open Source news for over 2 years. He
is an editor for Linux Today
and a contributing author on Linux
Planet
.