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What's Driving Global Linux Adoption?

By Tom Hanrahan, OSDL director of engineering
July 18, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Open Software Development Lab (OSDL) business recently took me to India, a country of 1 billion people with a highly skilled IT professional class that is doing some amazing work with Linux. This trip, as well as many others I have taken on behalf of OSDL, provided me with another opportunity to see firsthand the phenomenon of Linux and open-source software spreading across the globe.

Linux is taking off in different parts of the world for many different reasons. Some of the reasons are the same everywhere. Low total cost of ownership, flexibility, security and control. Still, some reasons surprised me. Before joining OSDL last year as the head of its engineering groups, I ran Linux kernel development for IBM's global Linux Technology Center, where we had more than 600 developers working on Linux and open-source software. I thought my view was pretty current. But things are changing quickly, everywhere. What role do governments play? It's quite different from country to country. What drives business adoption? What are the priorities in various economies, particularly emerging markets? The technology issues seem mostly to be behind us now. Linux is ready and every region has different motivations for adoption. Here is what I have seen in recent visits overseas.

India is home to more than 22 languages, many with unique alphabets. The impact this has on the production and distribution of textbooks for schoolchildren or the ability for local governments to collaborate on larger initiatives is gigantic. India sees opportunity in utilizing Linux and other open-source technologies to educate its population. With low overhead investment, Linux provides a pathway to e-education, enabling access to information for all students -- students who speak different languages and students who live in remote areas of the country. In the same way, Linux can enable e-medicine, e-governance and e-business throughout India.

Japan is a global leader in the adoption of open-source software technology for business and industry. The use of embedded Linux in Japan's consumer electronics industry is growing rapidly, as is the adoption of carrier-grade Linux in telephony. In addition, Japan's Open Source Software Promotion Forum has taken an active role in accelerating the use of Linux in the data center. The OSSPF's role is to expand the use of open-source software in Japan in coordination with government and industry. Recently, it has expanded its functions to include cooperation among the governments and industries of China and Korea. The OSSPF has also started evaluating workloads and performance of key components of the open-source stack needed to support the data center and has helped expand use of Linux in the data center.

China is driving hard to become a world leader on many fronts and sees Linux as one pathway to its leadership position. Open-source software provides them with an opportunity to immediately and actively engage in advancing IT, and they are showing keen interest in helping accelerate the maturation of Linux on the desktop. Chinese developers will participate in the annual Ottawa Linux Desktop Developers' Conference for the first time this month. Their efforts are supported by both national and local governments. At a conference in Paris last May, Qinghua Hu, director of the Beijing Software Industry Productivity Center, gave a keynote address in which he outlined China's goals to make open-source software a main component of China's infrastructure. The city of Beijing, in particular, is planning to use open-source software to provide e-government services.

In North America, where e-commerce is mature, the Linux data center is experiencing significant growth because it can prevent users from being locked into proprietary agreements. Large Linux server farms are being deployed to support increasing storage and sensitive information exchange requirements in vertical markets such as financial services.

In South America, Brazil has taken a leading role in promoting the use of open-source software both in government and industry. Officials are motivated by the belief that training their own people in open-source technology and creating a skilled workforce will lead to economic development in the country and the region. Initial data from IDC indicates that their plan is working, with the IT growth rate in Brazil rising at four times the rate worldwide.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union has launched a million-dollar study on the impact of open-source software and standards on software development, skills development and government. This comes at a time when Linux is experiencing greater acceptance by all levels of government throughout Europe. For example, Munich, which has been recognized for its efforts to use Linux on the desktop, recently announced it will convert its systems to Debian Linux through the help of third-party contractors (see Munich chooses two local Linux suppliers).

Linux deployments are taking place at such a rapid pace it can be difficult to keep up, but the increasing adoption, based on multiple motivations depending on region, is compelling evidence for others who are considering Linux. Linux offers flexibility, ownership and security at little cost. With a variety of return on investment scenarios for government, business and education, Linux is not only accelerating technological innovation but also economic and social development around the globe.

As director of engineering at Open Source Development Labs, Hanrahan manages all of the lab's engineering and testing professionals worldwide. He has 30 years of software development experience, including lead engineering roles at IBM, Intel Corp. and Sequent Computer Systems Inc.

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