Beefed-up operating system still faces deployment challenges

At last week's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here, the release of the new 2.4 kernel of the Linux operating system won some praise from IT managers. But it won't necessarily win an immediate place in their deployment plans.

Bob Ruddy, owner of Web hosting and networking firm Inc. in Doylestown, Pa., said the Linux 2.4 kernel -- which was released early last month by Linux creator Linus Torvalds -- won't by itself convince many smaller and midsize companies to make the jump from Windows or other operating systems.

One of the greatest deficiencies in Linux for companies contemplating any migration has been the lack of a feature-filled software suite compatible with industry-standard Microsoft Office file formats, Ruddy said. While Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice and Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect for Linux suites are available, the lack of default file compatibility with Microsoft Corp.'s dominant set of office software still leaves many companies unable to fully consider Linux as an alternative to what they're now using, he added.

Derek Burney, CEO at Ottawa-based Corel, said he doubts that the new kernel will have little to do with any big increase in Linux deployments for a related reason. "I don't think it's a kernel issue at all," since the kernel technology is deeply hidden from the user's view and has little direct impact on people, he said.

Instead, Burney said, Linux stumbles at the enterprise level because the open-source software model gives developers little monetary incentive to support the operating system. "That will dog Linux until there's a way around it," he said. For Corel, making a profit off of Linux has been such a challenge that the company last month said it will try to spin off the unit that distributes its version of the operating system, although it will continue to develop Linux applications.

On the other end of the spectrum, Robert Young, chairman and co-founder of Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. in Durham, N.C., said the 2.4 kernel will be "very important" to new marketing of his company's version of the operating system.

For the first time, he said, the new kernel -- which received major technology contributions from vendors such as Red Hat and Intel Corp. -- can be looked at by formerly skeptical CIOs and other corporate executives and be seen as a mature system.

And that prospect has John Grana, vice president of software engineering at Performance Technologies Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., excited about the new release, he said. The new kernel could be just what some businesses have been waiting for, Grana said, adding that Linux 2.4 could have a major impact on his company's Internet infrastructure.

Performance Technologies uses Linux for about 50 percent of its telecommunications-based components, along with the real-time VxWorks operating system from Wind River Systems Inc. in Alameda, Calif. But Grana said Linux could handle as much as 90 percent of the work if the new kernel actually delivers promised high availability and fault-tolerance capabilities.

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