<p>COLUMBIA, S.C. – Despite assaults by hackers and haters alike in the world of network servers, don’t write off Microsoft anytime soon. The software giant’s domination of the market for the operating systems that connects computers is expected to continue growing this year, although Linux, the dark horse favorite, is showing strength, too. IDC, a big research house, says Microsoft should own 47% of the server market by the end of this year, up from 41% in 2001. Meanwhile, Linux, an open-source alternative to Microsoft, continues to gain share. It had 27% of the server market in 2001, IDC says, and should have 32% by year’s end. It appears Linux’s gains are coming from its predecessor’s loss. UNIX’s share is expected to fall from 14% to 10%, IDC says. In addition to the fact that it’s simply not Microsoft, Linux developers cite its openness and relative security for its increasing popularity. Also, IBM and other big hardware players are increasingly supporting Linux, citing the same reasons. But is it really less likely to fall victim to cyber-criminals? Linux probably is a little less vulnerable for a number of reasons, says Daryl Tanner, president and CEO of Share One Inc., a Tennessee-based core processor and technology vendor with more than 30 credit union clients: For one, there are less Linux servers out there. Also, Linux is targeted less because it’s the operating system favored by most serious hackers and “script kiddies.” “For many of these people,” Tanner says, “Microsoft represents the `evil empire.’ You can only be a hero if you are trying to take them down.” Microsoft Web servers also come with more features and tools, which can be targets for attacks. Linux operating systems, meanwhile, have “the ability to be stripped down to a micro-kernel of the operating system with a single application running,” says Mike Scheuerman, business technology officer at First Tech Credit Union in Beaverton, Ore. “The primary vulnerability becomes the application,” says Scheuerman, whose $915 million, 86,500-member institution is running one Linux server at the moment. As for ShareOne, “We see no immediate need for it,” Tanner says. “Our operating system of choice is Windows 2000 and reliability is very high, compatibility across the enterprise office is absolute, and although it is not free (none of major supported Linux brands are actually `free’ either) the price is not a big burden for what you get. “Linux has no comparable software or tool solution set at this time. But we’re keeping our options to live in both worlds by using development tools that work in the both the Linux and Windows environments, such as languages like Delphi/Kylix and C++,” says Tanner. LEARNING ON LINUX A different perspective comes from Marc Kilgore, vice president of information systems at $250 million City & County Credit Union in St. Paul, Minn. That 41,000-member CU already has several Linux servers up and running and is moving toward the next frontier: the desktop. “We have budget approval to implement secondary desktop workstations in our IS department using Linux so that we can more fully cross-train personnel,” Kilgore says. “From the server side, I see Microsoft products as being extremely buggy, bloated and poorly designed with no way for me to fix the problem, since I don’t have the source code,” he says. And that open code adds a new layer of security, he says. “It’s much less vulnerable,” Kilgore says. “The Linux community is on top of vulnerabilities as they’re found and patches or fixes are quickly available. Frankly, no company could ever afford the manpower that the open source community has to pore through their code.” Speaking of manpower, finding technical staff who can work with Linux will be another barrier to its adoption, says John Schooler, chief technology officer at USERS Inc., the 350-credit union-plus Fiserv core-processing subsidiary based in Valley Forge, Pa. “While there are many experienced professionals in the IT field for UNIX, VMS and Microsoft operating systems, it would be much more difficult to locate and hire similarly talented staff for Linux,” he says. “A primary drawback that I see is that it still is not a mature operating system like UNIX or VMS,” Schooler says. “Most of the current deployments of Linux are for relatively recent technology applications such as Internet Web servers, FTP and file servers and some e-mail servers. . (And) while there are many developers working on the open Linux source, I question whether the many utilities and layered software products that comprise a typical core system are readily available,” says Schooler, adding that USERS is employing Linux right now only in a research capacity. He also said he expects Linux systems to draw more attention from hackers as they become more widely used. But in order for Linux applications to make a real dent in Microsoft’s domination of workplace technology, something will have to be able to compete with the ubiquitous Office suite and more. That hasn’t happened yet, according to a recent Goldman Sachs survey of 100 technology managers, which found 65% had no plans to use Linux in 2002, primarily because there aren’t enough corporate applications available. Indeed, when it comes to the end user, there are far fewer products for Linux users, and they tend to be more difficult to use for the non-technical than Microsoft’s easy-to-use solutions. “The downside is still, in the minds of the general population, the fact that it’s perceived to be a `techie’ OS that’s hard to install and maintain,” says Scheuerman at First Tech. “In addition, despite companies like Red Hat, there’s a lack of easily accessed support and maintenance.” So, should Microsoft be fretting about Linux? “Absolutely!” says Tom Ha, IS manager at AmeriChoice Federal Credit Union in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “As the applications for the Linux operating system mature and gain acceptance, and as Microsoft shoots itself in the foot with licensing issues, Linux use will grow,” says Ha, whose 11,000-member, $75 million CU will be testing Linux systems as part “of our mid- to long-term strategy.” -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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