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Summary:

For years, Linux has grown at the expense of expensive Unix like Solaris, but a new study shows Linux gaining at Windows expense for the first time, and not because Linux is cheaper. Rather, survey respondents cite Linux’s “technical superiority,” which may be a hard argument for Microsoft to counter.

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For years, the Linux penguin has grown fat on the carcass of yesterday’s Unix market, with Red Hat, in particular, delivering robust earnings growth at the expense of Sun’s Solaris business. According to a new report released on Tuesday, however, Tux the Penguin is adding Windows to its diet. Lots of Windows.

At least, that’s the message conveyed by the report by the Linux Foundation, in partnership with Yeoman Technology Group (please see my disclosure below). The two surveyed 387 IT professionals, with some surprising findings:

  • About 79 percent of companies are adding more Linux instead of other operating systems in the next five years, compared to a mere 21.3 percent which expect to add more Windows servers over the same period.
  • In the shorter term, things aren’t much better for Microsoft. Only 41.2 percent of respondents plan to add more Windows servers in the next year, and 43.6 percent expect to decrease or maintain their number of Windows servers over the next year.
  • More respondents reported that their Linux deployments are migrations from Windows than any other source, including Unix migrations.
  • Two-thirds of users surveyed say that their Linux deployments are brand new deployments.
  • Almost as many (60.2 percent) respondents say they will use Linux for more mission-critical workloads over the next 12 months.
  • Drivers for Linux adoption extend beyond cost; technical superiority is the primary driver, followed by cost and then security.
  • At 86.5 percent, a vast majority of respondents report that Linux is improving, and 58.4 percent say their CIOs see Linux as more strategic to the organization as compared to three years ago.
  • Among the early adopters who are operating in cloud environments, 70.3 percent use Linux as their primary platform, while only 18.3 percent use Windows. Interestingly, only 26 percent plan on moving applications/services to the cloud over the next year.

It’s not surprising that Linux would cut into Unix market share. Both are based on the same technology, requiring a similar skillset, while Linux costs considerably less due to its community development model. When you have IBM, Intel, Oracle, and others contributing free labor to develop Linux, vendors can sell it for little to nothing.

But cost can’t adequately explain this apparent shift from Windows to Linux. After all, in some scenarios, Linux may actually be more expensive than Windows, as Savio Rodrigues highlights when comparing Red Hat Enterprise Linux pricing to Windows Server pricing on Amazon’s EC2. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has its own pitch on why enterprises should choose Windows over Linux, arguing that cost considerations favor Windows, not Linux.

The problem for Microsoft is it’s no longer a matter of cost. As the survey results demonstrate, 67.5 percent of survey respondents cite “technical superiority” as the reason they choose Linux. Microsoft may still have the edge in terms of lowering the bar to development and deployment through development tools and the like, but Linux appears to have replaced Unix as the operating system enterprises trust with their mission-critical workloads.

Granted, the Linux Foundation is hardly an unbiased observer: A segment of the survey respondents include members of the Linux Foundation’s End User Council. But it’s hard to impugn the credibility of even that part of the survey’s demographic, given that it includes companies like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Bristol-­Myers Squibb, NTT, Dreamworks, ADP, McKinsey and Co., the U.S. Department of Defense, Goodrich, and other companies that have big investments in both Linux and Windows.

That said, it’s interesting that the original survey included 1,948 respondents, but the Linux Foundation only reports on the largest 387 respondents. Perhaps a different story of adoption emerges from the smaller 1,561 respondents? It’s very possible that Linux has not had as impressive traction against easy-to-use Windows in smaller enterprises as it has in the more self-sufficient larger enterprises. Microsoft’s own research (PDF) indicates that Windows significantly outpaces Linux in SMB adoption.

At any rate, Microsoft has spent years trying to dampen Linux’s momentum through patent-suit sabre rattling. This tactic has failed. Microsoft needs a new strategy, one that includes more R&D and fewer lawyers.

Disclosure: I work for Canonical, a Linux vendor.

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  1. The reason I am switching as a home user is Linux runs on my 5 year old hardware…(eMachines W3410) Windows-7 does NOT! Windows-XP support will soon be dropped by Microsoft; what choice do I have? My PC has an AMD Athlon 64(3200) processor,
    2GB of RAM, and a 100GB hard drive. It runs Ubuntu/Mint just fine…i like the desktop of “Mint Isadora” as it’s somewhat similar to Windows XP my current OS that came with my PC. My ATI Video card uses 128MB of my ram…Windows-7? I don’t think so…$150 or so for a good Vid card, + $85 – $120 for more RAM, + $200 (well $199.99) for Windows…might as well buy a new entry level PC, but since my old one still works fine and works WELL (in a wubi install) with Linux Mint…soon Windows Xp will be gone and Linux will rule my PC…just give me a month or two to learn Linux like i did when first running Windows3.11….Linux is the future…for me…

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  2. “Starts”? I run servers, and the mere idea of running servers with some flavor of Windows makes my head hurt. Linux only, please.

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  3. - “That said, it’s interesting that the original survey included 1,948 respondents, but the Linux Foundation only reports on the largest 387 respondents.”

    Gee… they only reported on a nice, even 387 respondents and completely ignored the 1,561 that didn’t give them the answer they were looking for.

    Sounds legit to me!

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  4. If a proprietary vendor did this kind of thing with sending a survey to a hand-picked set of partners, the Linux crowd would be all like “haha FAIL.” Yes, I’m still a Linux fanboy from way back (the first Linux box I installed at a company was a 486) but I don’t see how LF is being helpful here. http://zgp.org/~dmarti/business/hands-up-who-likes-me/

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    1. On the contrary, self-selected subjects are suspect. But I agree, I don’t get the impression these subjects are randomly selected.

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  5. I guess what is needed is more smaller companies who can provide Linux support into other smaller companies so that such small players do not automatically assume that they have to buy Windows. The problem is that small companies can get vendor-locked too easily because of their small scale.

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    1. David Legg makes a very good point, but I think with the advent of small NAS boxes and web based platforms and open file formats – hopefully the tide is turning and even the smaller companies can start to take advantage – we are certainly trying to take them there when it makes sense.

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      1. David, since your web site says your company is a “Microsoft Certified Partner” I’m just curious: do any of the open source vendors offer the same level of deals, incentives, and training that MSFT does?

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  6. On the “good news” front for Microsoft, Oracle’s actions have caused more than a few places to put Solaris on their attrition lists. So, Windows, at least, isn’t having to compete against Solaris SPARC, Solaris x86 or even OpenSolaris. Some of this is even spilling into the DB side, as well.

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  7. It is nice to see and about time. Linux is a great system for a system that needs 24/7 365 uptime. All the amazing open source software to go with it makes it even a better choice.

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  8. Well, I’m considering dropping Windows XP from my desktop in favor of a Nintendo Wii. No more dual-boot, plus all that space regained for Linux. My office is moving to Windows 7, so I have Linux and a token ‘7 partition. Games are the only reason I have held on to XP at all. I could just get Cedega…

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  9. [...] Matt Asay reports on new data surfaced by The Linux Foundation re: large enterprise adoption of Linux. [...]

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