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REALITY CHECK: Will Linux kill my Windows 2000/NT career?

Linux is fast gaining momentum. Red Hat Software, the leading vendor of a commercial version of the open-source...

operating system, late last year had a red hot IPO. IBM plans to put Linux on its mainframes; Dell will put it on laptops; Oracle, SCO, Computer Associates and other software vendors have announced Linux-related products.

And research firm International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., estimates that the user-friendly, Unix-like operating system captured 25% of the network server market last year (see story here ).

Does Linux' rise harbor bad news for Windows 2000/NT careers?

John Harris, manager of engineering laboratory resources for U.S. Internetworking, an applications services provider in Annapolis, Md., says not necessarily. While his company's clients have inquired about Linux, he doesn't expect it to make major inroads into high-end business environments.

"I don't see it making a serious challenge to Microsoft for the same reason that Unix never really has: It's fragmenting. All the various flavors (of the original kernel) are starting to diverge because everyone wants to make a little money."

An NT consultant in that market says he is already feeling the Linux pressure. Blair Lawrence, an MCSD with Sybernex Corp., an E-business consulting firm targeting small-to medium-size businesses in London, Ontario, Canada, says he anticipates his customers will start asking about the operating system this spring as they evaluate Windows 2000 rollouts.

"If NT doesn't get beyond the 32-units-in-a-cluster limit, then Linux could rapidly overtake NT," Lawrence says. "It makes me anxious in terms of what my customers' expectations will be. Linux is free, so how do I justify (NT's) costs to them?"

Lawrence plans to take a two-day crash course in Linux so that by summer he'll be well prepared to respond to clients' inquiries with cost/benefit analysis and to move forward if they opt to go with Linux servers. "But I don't have any Unix expertise, so it will be a brand new world," he says.

Harris says that NT professionals should be able to come up-to-speed on Linux by playing with it on a home machine. He recommends the book Linux in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (Second Edition) by Ellen Siever (OReilly & Associates, 1999, $29.95).

"My advice is: Learn how to use it, and use it where it makes sense," Harris says. "Get your hands on Red Hat 6.2. The new installation package makes it as easy as the NT installation. At one time you needed detailed knowledge of all the drivers, and getting the graphics going was extremely difficult. The new installation pack isn't idiot-proof, but it's close."

By Leslie Goff, a contributing editor based in New York.

This was last published in May 2000

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