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LinuxWorld: Shock value gone from Microsoft presence

Unix, not Windows, may be Linux's biggest foe when it comes to establishing a foothold inside the enterprise data center. Microsoft, meanwhile, remains public enemy No. 1 at LinuxWorld, but its presence isn't exactly drawing picket protests.

NEW YORK -- Microsoft's presence at LinuxWorld doesn't carry the same shock value it once did. Its booth isn't a target for spitballs or other forms of derision by the open-source community. But don't think for a minute that the world's biggest software company has been accepted in hostile territory. Just tolerated.

Microsoft generally represents everything those espousing Linux detest. Red Hat chief technical officer Michael Tiemann, for one, would not mention Microsoft by name during his afternoon keynote. Also, event organizers have organized the exhibit floor in such a way that the .Org group, a collection of organizations that lobby for the free, open-source movement, is set up as far away as physically possible from Microsoft.

Yet Microsoft reported steady business at its booth, which featured demonstrations of its ASP.NET development tools and other Web services development products.

Apparently, users have recognized that while their passion is Linux, Microsoft is an inescapable fixture inside enterprise data centers -- and no amount of posturing is going to change that in the short term.

"I don't think it's a big deal that they are here," said Michael Prince, chief information officer for Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Inc. in Lyme, N.H. Prince, for one, acknowledged that Linux's biggest competitor for enterprise attention may be Unix systems like Sun's Solaris, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX or IBM's AIX.

"There's a lot of Windows in the enterprise, but not at the high end," Prince said. "Linux is moving in, and it's going to start stepping heavily on the toes of Unix vendors."

Those major Unix vendors, however, have already taken steps to cushion the blow and could be eventually setting the stage for a leap away from Unix systems toward Linux. HP and IBM, for example, have begun investing in Linux and, should an enterprise customer decide to move off their expensive Unix offerings, they would not be losing a customer, just shifting the customer's money around.

Linux has already infiltrated the enterprise for low-end functions like file and print serving, as well as on the desktop. That's where the biggest immediate hit to Microsoft could be felt.

"There aren't a lot of issues that are roadblocks to Linux in the enterprise data center," Prince said. "A lot of those issues like clustering or joint file sharing are gone. There are no large issues any more."

As for Microsoft, it kept a low profile and put a positive spin on the LinuxWorld experience.

"At LinuxWorld in San Francisco last year, I would say that 80% of the attention we got at our booth was from Linux enthusiasts who were Microsoft customers already," said Shawn Nandi, product manager for ASP.NET. "We've gotten a lot of interest from developers here. A lot of them are using Microsoft technology and have a big focus on developing Web services around .NET."


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