The channel really dislikes things that are free. For example, while resellers beam from ear to ear when vendors throw money at them for joint marketing campaigns, they hate it when vendors start to give things away for free. We have free web space, free ecommerce tools, free PCs (hmmm?), and Linux.
Now, the Linux open source operating system might not exactly be free these days, but compared to its commercial rival, Windows NT, it's a steal. Commercial versions of Linux from companies such as Red Hat and Caldera are flying off the shelves, and the operating system has gone from being a great, free system maintained by nerds in tie-dyed shirts and flares, to a massive commercial opportunity.
This is good for all Linux lovers and, following the massively successful flotation of Red Hat last week, for Wall Street speculators. But it's bad news for the channel. The whole free concept has gotten out of hand. Resellers have to be able to sell things to make money on the back of the products through installation, training, services and maintenance. If the so-called free PC concept takes off, then resellers can certainly kiss the already tight desktop margins goodbye.
Ebusiness is already a relatively cheap buy, but the free model here is looking increasingly attractive. Linux started out free but has since acquired a taste for cash. Even so, it's still much cheaper than its rivals and, at present, resellers who are only flogging NT and some outdated flavour of Unix should watch what's happening very carefully.
Last week's LinuxWorld Expo showed just how commercially popular this little gem has become. IBM launched NetFinity servers running the Linux operating system alongside a whole range of Linux support services. Sybase introduced a raft of Linux-based products and promised to support them, while Oracle set up the Linux Strategic Business Unit, a 100-strong group devoted to all things Linux.
According to Oracle, about 50,000 developers and 800 customers makes Linux its fastest growing platform. Motorola is also making a significant push. These were just some of the developments that were revealed, and while some of them may just be there to cover their behinds, most industry observers see Linux as an alternative revenue stream to the Microsoft products. It's time to join the Linux cult because, right now, it's a lot safer to be with the guys in flares than to be against them.
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