META: Microsoft to Offer Server Apps on Linux?

Linux operating system server shipments are forecast to be on a high growth track, which is likely to convince Microsoft to begin moving some of its proprietary application enablers to the Linux environment by 2004, according to research firm META Group.

While Microsoft reportedly has no plans to develop for Linux, META’s predictions indicate that Linux on the server is currently more of a threat to UNIX than to Windows. The rising tide of Linux shipments (the OS currently commands between 15 percent and 20 percent of shipments, and is expected to be on 45 percent of new servers by 2006/2007, according to META) is likely to make the OS an attractive market for Microsoft.

META predicted that by late 2004, Microsoft will begin moving application enablers like .NET components to the Linux environment, and will follow-up gradually with major back-office products like SQL Server, IIS and Exchange.

“We also believe Microsoft will reprice and/or separate the Windows server OS (e.g., into kernel and “add-on” components), so it can be favorably compared against “free” Linux,” META said Monday. “As a result of Linux’s growing market share, and the support of IBM, Oracle, HP, Dell, et al., we believe systems management, networking, application development, and applications in general will increasingly be available on Linux platforms during the next 12-18 months.”

META said Linux is more likely to cannibalize UNIX sales rather than Windows sales, at least at first, because the total cost of ownership of Linux servers remains higher than that of Windows servers.

“The Linux OS itself is nominally free, but data center-ready Linux distributions (e.g., RedHat, SuSE) are not,” according to META analyst Brian Richardson, who focuses on Server Infrastructure Strategies. “Our research indicates that the most significant cost differences are between RISC and Intel server hardware, and between DBMSs (Oracle on Linux vs. SQL Server on Windows). Other “Lintel” versus “Wintel” costs are about the same (e.g., storage, servers, middleware, applications, support), but Linux “shadow” IT costs will likely be higher. Until 2004, we believe Linux will be a larger threat to UNIX (particularly Solaris) than to Windows.”

In fact, while Linux is expected to increase its penetration in the enterprise data center — from 3 percent currently to 11 percent in 2007 — Windows will also be moving in, reaching 38 percent by 2007, as compared to Unix, with 40 percent and zOS with 11 percent.

“Our analysis indicates that, by 2012, driven by Intel platform economics, Linux will grow to a 26 percent presence (Windows will move to 51 percent; UNIX and zOS will contract to 20 percent and 3 percent, respectively), said Rich Evans, Enterprise Data Center Strategies, META Group.

Indeed, Evans predicted that of all the players, Intel will be the true winner.

“Reflecting the market’s continued drive for cost-effective hardware, 2007-2012 platform demographics will reflect Intel’s expanded dominance (from 54 percent to 82 percent) at the expense of both RISC (falling from 35 percent to 15 percent) and CISC (IBM’s complex instruction set computers — falling from 11 percent to 3 percent),” he said.

Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.