Linux for the masses?

LinuxWorld 2003 opens this week in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, giving Linux vendors and enthusiasts of all descriptions a chance to showcase their favorite operating system.

By all accounts, Linux is doggedly continuing its march toward respectability and, perhaps, even boredom. Like a motorcycle-riding, leathers-wearing, tattooed CPA, Linux has a whiff of youthful danger and rebelliousness about it, despite being, in its daily work, rather dull. Sure, it’s got a cute side, too, epitomized by that ubiquitous penguin. Put it to work, though, and the open-source OS is all business.

Where Linux is finding its most sympathetic audience is in the data center — the data-processing, web-page-serving brains of the modern corporation. Most companies aren’t using Linux for critical systems like inventory and payroll yet, but it does play an increasingly important role in giving those systems a friendly, Webby front end. That’s because it’s cheap, easy to modify, and it’s open source. You know exactly what you’re getting — no pigs in a poke here.

Will Linux ever find significant traction as a desktop system? I doubt it. Open source development is good for producing tools for geeks — operating systems, programming tools, and the like. But consumer-oriented, user-friendly, general-purpose computer systems? Not likely. Linux may be powerful, but as far as consumers are concerned, you can’t give it away.

In fact, it’s much more probable that Unix will find its way onto your desktop–if it does–with an Apple icon on it than a penguin.

Here’s some of the early news from LinuxWorld 2003.

Wired News plays up Linux-powered robots at the show.

The SF Chronicle’s Carrie Kirby writes a fairly lightweight story on how Linux is becoming more attractive to businesses.

IBM is touting Linux-using customers, and beefing up its Linux efforts, as usual.

SCO‘s claim that it owns basic copyrights on Unix (and, by extension, Linux) hangs, like a thin layer of cloud, over the show, but without troubling anyone too much.

Novell is buying Ximian, a maker of Linux-based development tools and groupware and sponsor of the Gnome Linux desktop user interface, founded by Miguel de Icaza. Nobody has much information on it yet but this Network World Fusion story by Barbara Darrow is a good start. Significance? Great news for Linux developers and Microsoft haters, but of little import outside that sphere. Long-term, however, it may lend weight and credibility to de Icaza’s Mono Project, an attempt to replicate Microsoft’s .Net on an open-source platform.

Linux for the masses?