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Analysis: Believing Linux myths could be a costly mistake

Analysis: Believing Linux myths could be a costly mistake

AMR Research Inc. looked at some of the common Linux myths, and found real world examples that proved them to be fallacies

One of the main challenges in adopting Linux is dispelling the misconceptions about open source software to gain management's support and approval. AMR Research Inc. looked at some of the common Linux myths, and found real world examples that proved them to be fallacies. Myth #1: Linux resources are scarce and expensive.

Reality #1: Linux skills are easily transferable or grown.

Companies are concerned that while Linux is essentially free, it will cost them more in the long run because of the short supply of Linux administrators. However, Linux training is offered at schools and universities throughout Europe. And while Linux training and education is not prevalent in universities and colleges throughout North America, leading universities, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California at Berkeley, are beginning to offer it.

Furthermore, many of the companies that we spoke with said that UNIX skills could easily be transferred to Linux. Interviews with Linux users revealed the following: Sending five full-time equivalents (FTEs) to Linux training costs less than US$6,000.

Linux technical information is widely available on the public domain.

Support from third parties is abundant.

Myth #2: Code developed on Linux is available for public consumption.

Reality #2: Only changes to the Linux kernel are released to the public domain, whereas custom application development remains private.

Linux is part of the open source community model; therefore, some companies are fearful that their proprietary applications will also leak out to the public domain. Linux is also part of the GNU's Not UNIX (GNU, a recursive acronym) General Public Library (GPL). Software that is part of the GNU GPL may be copied and distributed to everyone, but not changed, and any changes to the GNU software must be distributed to the public domain.

These mandates prevent forking -- in other words, many incompatible versions of Linux -- and keep users from adding to or tweaking the core and selling it as proprietary software. That said, it is easy to see why this myth has taken root. Nonetheless, companies need to see the huge difference between Linux and what is developed on Linux. Because a company uses a Linux OS to develop custom applications does not automatically mean that the same company is developing open source applications.

Myth #3: Linux adoption does not change the way IT works today.

Reality #3: Linux adoption requires new IT processes to be successful.

The adoption of Linux may result in changes in the way the Information Technology (IT) department operates. Again, open source software is free: no license costs, no maintenance, no support. The Linux source code, part of the public domain, is constantly changing. Unless working with a third-party service provider, a company using Linux is now responsible for monitoring and tracking fixes to the kernel and finding needed upgrades.

With commercial software, these services are covered by the company's maintenance contract with its vendor. A company choosing to not work with third-party Linux distributors needs to reorganize its IT staff to stay on top of the Linux changes, documentation, and overall approval processes. Still, that company is free from vendor upgrade schedules, it only has to upgrade Linux when and if it wants to upgrade, which requires process and policy changes.

Myth #4: Linux is going to die out.

Reality #4: Linux has staying power.

In 1994, Linus Torvalds released the first version of the Linux kernel. Nine years later, he continues to be highly protective of the kernel, incorporating good changes and disregarding other proposed changes. Still, many companies question the longevity of Linux as an open source technology, believing that Linux will follow the same path as UNIX and fork into many incompatible versions. However, as mentioned earlier, Linux is developed under a GNU GPL open-sourced OS, meaning everyone has access to all changes in the Linux code.

In addition, the Linux community is huge and passionate. With or without Linus, they will ensure that the kernel is maintained and protected. Aside from the open source community, Linux has many large, affluent supporters: HP, IBM, and Sun are adopting the technology. IBM in particular is heavily invested in Linux, offering a number of services and products on that OS.

Oracle Corp. supports Linux for its database services and has customers successfully deployed on Linux. Germany, Japan, India, China and a number of others all have initiatives to move some or all of their federal systems to Linux.

Many Wall Street brokerage firms, including Morgan Stanley, The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., and E-Trade Group Inc., have embraced Linux as a viable platform. Vendor support is the area that has most people concerned about the future of Linux, and that needs to be addressed before it will become more prevalent in the enterprise. The question that remains: Will the vendors turn it into a commercial piece of technology, or will it stay as it exists today? -- CIO.com

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