The State of Enterprise Linux
For more than 20 years, Unix played the role of the 800 pound gorilla in the server space, especially in enterprise, scientific, government and academic environments. But traditional Unix vendors have faced increasing competition on two fronts. Microsoft Windows Server products have made significant inroads, particularly in the business back-end. To a lesser extent, but cutting closer to the bone, is competition from Linux.
While Microsoft servers represent a wholesale platform shift from Unix options, luring customers to Linux is less of a sea of change. Since it first began as a hobby project in 1991, Linux was inspired as a free alternative to proprietary Unix implementations. Although Linux is closely modeled after popular Unix systems in both form and function, its code is freely available and open source, without derivation from protected Unix code.
There is no single platform or product that singularly represents Linux. Because it is essentially an open source kernel surrounded by a set of open source tools, Linux has been packaged, customized and distributed by enthusiasts in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some distributions are optimized for end-user desktop use, some for lightweight servers, some for embedded applications, some for general purpose use, and so on.
While the motivation behind the original Linux development was driven without interest in the marketplace, its free nature has left open the possibility for vendors to build and sell their own Linux-based platforms.