A few years ago, the idea of Linux being in general business use was laughable. The open source operating system was used by a few fanatics who were willing to put themselves out for the sake of a principle. Associated applications were unsophisticated and rare, and they required time and expertise to use.
It was like being a vegetarian in the 1980s. Nowadays both vegetarianism and Linux are accepted. After all, what are the advantages of Windows? It looks familiar and is easy to use. It operates on a wide variety of hardware and many applications and accessories are available.
But the familiar Windows interface is not as straightforward as it seems. There are many different versions, from 95 to XP. Businesses need the right version of applications for the right version of the operating system. And some vendors do not support all versions.
Of course, there are different flavours of Linux too. The range of applications available is still small, but it is backed by major players, such as IBM, and office suite producers are taking an interest in Linux, such as Sun Microsystems with its Star Office suite.
Equally important, Linux conforms to internet standards encouraging maximum interoperability, and its stability as an operating system is widely acknowledged.
Linux is ideally suited to provide high-availability back-end servers for small to medium sized enterprises. These can manage data processing, storage and back-up, while the graphical user interface work is transferred to local PCs. The workstations of the future simply run a browser-based operating system (with Java support) using local memory.
For an operating system to become a real contender a critical mass of hardware manufacturers, software houses and users is needed. The hardware firms have to be convinced it is worthwhile writing drivers, software houses need to transfer software and users have to be convinced that reliable applications are available.
Over the past few years, Linux has achieved this, so users can feel confident that it will achieve the standards of reliability and compatibility they expect.
Now that Microsoft acknowledges Linux as a competitor; expect to see an increasing role for Linux as its reputation for reliability and security is confirmed.
Brian Dorricott is managing director of messaging software developer Gordano.
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