Linux Goes Mainstream

As open-source use blossoms, major tech players get on board.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- When

Oracle's

(ORCL) - Get Report

buttoned-down president Charles Phillips gives the opening keynote address and there's not a silly penguin costume in sight, you know the grownups are in charge at this year's LinuxWorld.

After two days, the big Linux trade show here hasn't produced any big surprises or high drama. But there is plenty of evidence that the alternative operating system is sitting solidly in the mainstream. So solidly that "over 50% of our customers will use Linux in the next five years, if not sooner," Phillips said.

By most measures, Linux is growing faster than any other operating system, although the same measures show that the free alternative is still very much a minority in both business and home computing. In 2004, sales of Linux server software grew by 44% to $4.25 billion. But the overall market, which is still dominated by Unix and Windows, totaled $46.2 billion, according to market researcher IDC.

Even David Patrick, who heads the Linux efforts of

Novell

(NOVL)

, admits that a world in which most people run Linux on their desktop computers -- a bit of hype that once received a surprisingly credulous reception -- is far off. "We feel like it is a long road for us. It certainly has not been an overnight shift," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Still, Novell, which seemed slow to get off the mark in the Linux business and still lags well behind rival

Red Hat

(RHAT)

, has had some significant wins this week.

Siebel Systems

(SEBL)

, arguably the top-tier application vendor with the least aggressive Linux support, announced that it will make all of its major applications compatible with Novell's SUSE Linux. It's likely that the real impact will be felt next year when Siebel releases the new version of its flagship customer relationship management suite and has had time to complete extensive compatibility testing.

How much revenue the move will ultimately generate for Siebel, which has struggled with shrinking license sales for some time, is unclear. "This may be more significant to Novell than to Siebel," commented technology consultant Amy Wohl.

But from Novell's point of view, "It's more proof that SUSE Linux is ready for prime time," said Patrick.

Novell also struck a deal to expand its partnership with storage giant

EMC's

(EMC)

VMware subsidiary, which has more than 10,000 enterprise customers.

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

, meanwhile, announced that it will now support customers who use the popular, open-source Apache Geronimo application server. Although it won't drive a lot of revenue, the move underscores IBM's commitment to open source.

In May, Big Blue

shelled out $100 million to buy Gluecode software, a company that sells support for Geronimo, and offers software that extends its capabilities. Now, IBM will support customers who use Geronimo, even if they don't sign up with Gluecode, said Steve Mills, the IBM senior vice president who heads the company's software efforts. "Might I lose a little of my own revenue doing this?" he asked rhetorically. "So what? We'll be coming across customers we never would have talked to."