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Despite Difficulties, Linux is Gaining Ground

Linux is now the fastest-growing operating system on the market, with a powerful presence in corporate computing -- primarily behind servers -- and strong potential in the embedded space; but, unsurprisingly, it faces difficult-to-overcome barriers when it comes to desktop usage, according to a recently released survey by InternetNews.com parent internet.com Corp.

internet.com, together with third-party research provider Insight Express LLC, polled 169 members of internet.com's Technology Advisory Panel, a group drawn from the audiences of the company's 169 Web sites catering to IT-savvy Internet professionals.

The study, "Linux: You Get What You Pay For?" found that 39 percent of the respondents use Linux and 31 percent plan to explore using Linux in their organizations. Of the respondents using Linux, 67 percent said they are using it as the operating system of a Web server, while other popular uses include running Internet access servers, mail servers and network/file servers. The survey found that 33 percent of the Linux users polled, 11 percent of the total number surveyed, use Linux for their desktops. While only 8.4 percent of the respondents said they are using Linux on embedded applications, the survey found it is likely to capture a segment of that market because it is inexpensive, easy to modify and offers good connectivity.

The low cost of Linux, its reliability and its compatibility with older systems all contribute to Linux's popularity for use with single/limited use appliance servers. But the OS has drawbacks -- though firms in the Linux sector are working to iron them out. Currently, large-scale application servers and e-commerce applications are often beyond the scope of Linux. The OS also lacks a strong, robust journal file system, supports a limited number of processors and has relatively few administration tools and little backup support compared to products from UNIX vendors and Microsoft.

But there is strong incentive to overcome these hurdles. E-commerce firms -- which depend upon Web site availability -- especially could benefit from the stability of Linux. Nearly 80 percent of the Linux users who responded to the survey said they highly valued the operating system's superior stability.

But non-Linux users, while valuing stability highly, also placed emphasis on ease of use, ease of upgrades, vendor support and good documentation. Even Linux users, only a little more than a quarter of whom said ease of use was part of their operating system selection criteria, showed a tendency to gravitate towards easier to use, Windows-like operating environments like GNOME and KDE -- though those environments also have the benefit of being open source and thus more appealing to many Linux users.

Internet.com's survey also found that Red Hat was the most recognizable Linux vendor -- 79 percent of respondents were familiar with the company and 55 percent recognized it as a major player in the market. Even two-thirds of non-Linux users said they had heard of Red Hat. Sun Microsystems and IBM Corp. both appear to be getting their involvement in Linux across -- 20 percent of the respondents recognized both companies as major players in the field. Caldera, VA Linux and Corel were also recognized. The bad news, however, is that 35 percent of the respondents said they don't know who the major players in Linux-based solutions are.