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Linux For The Future

It was wild idealism, really, around the notion that software should be developed communally and distributed freely that spawned Linux more than a decade ago. It's an ideal that has resonated up the chain of command to become a major disruptive force in the business world. While much is made of the threat to Windows, the Linux operating system and accompanying open-source movement threaten to put other decades-old IT mainstays, notably Unix and RISC-based processors, out to pasture. As the new p

A Grander View Of Linux
Linux providers are trying to convince business customers to expand the services and strategies they buy around the base operating system. Red Hat Inc. and Novell led that charge last week at the LinuxWorld conference in Boston.

Novell touted an open-source project to create a lightweight collaboration server called Hula that will deliver E-mail, calendaring, and address-book capabilities to client devices without the overhead of proprietary applications such as Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, or even Novell GroupWise.

Hula will fill a need because collaboration applications are the backbone for employee productivity, but IT managers need to drive down the cost of maintaining them, says Nat Friedman, Novell's VP of engineering for desktop and collaboration. Hula won't feature the extensive workflow capabilities of its proprietary competitors, but it will let companies tie a much larger number of users to each E-mail server. Whereas 2,000 users typically can share an Exchange server, more than 100,000 users will be able to share a Hula server, Friedman says.

"IT managers are used to having commodity options in each category of software, each with varying levels of maturity," Friedman says. "One place where there's no commodity solution is collaboration."

Hula could face competition fairly quickly. Rival Red Hat says it's building similar collaboration capabilities based upon technology it acquired in October from America Online's Netscape unit. But Red Hat doesn't have a time line for delivering its collaboration server.

Red Hat spent last week trying to get customers to expect more from Linux, talking up the release of the first version of its operating system based on the 2.6 Linux kernel. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 adds a number of security, scalability, desktop, and management features.

Linux providers spend a lot of time persuading users that the operating system has all of the capabilities they grew accustomed to over the past few decades with Unix. But Red Hat says it's looking to outdo that predecessor technology on several levels. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, for example, includes SE Linux security features that provide a level of security previously available only in specialized "trusted" versions of Unix. The latest version of Red Hat is a move to marry high-level security features with the basic operating system. Such features include mandatory access-control capabilities to lock down user permissions and improved buffer management.

Both Red Hat and Novell, which last year introduced a version of SuSE Linux based on the 2.6 Linux kernel, package the software and services that make Linux more than simply a cheaper alternative to Windows and Unix. After all, companies that invest the time and effort in migrating to a new platform won't accept taking a step backward, no matter how much money they think they'll save.

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