Taiwanese versions of the Linux software operating system -- a cheap, versatile and Web-friendly alternative to Microsoft's Windows -- look set to make inroads in the Microsoft-dominated small and medium-sized business market as firms implement post-Y2K upgrades.
Kuo Yen-chiun (
"The server OS market is currently the big target of Linux software vendors as the Linux operating system has more reliable server capabilities than the Windows NT operating system," Kuo said. "Most SMEs use Microsoft Office, but Linux also has comparable software suites."
Kuo said that Linux is still mainly used in academic circles. "Up until recently, it wasn't popular in Taiwan and Asia among ordinary computer users or companies, as it was perceived as being difficult to use and because of the language barrier," she added.
Linux was created more than ten years ago by Finnish computer scientist Linus Torvalds. The purpose was to develop a compact, flexible and free alternative to Microsoft's Windows, and today Torvalds' software has been further improved upon by a large and growing hardcore following of programmers worldwide.
Though do-it-yourself versions of the operating system can be downloaded free from the Internet, as the sky-high stock valuations of Linux software vendors Red Hat and VA Linux show, there is still a sizeable business opportunity in selling user-friendly pre-packaged versions of the software.
US-based Linux vendor LinuxOne is one of several Linux software providers in Taiwan. Ben Hsu, general manager of recently-established LinuxOne Taiwan, says the company's software is set to take off among Taiwan's smaller firms who are seeking a cheaper, server-capable and localized alternative or addition to Microsoft operating systems.
"If you want to install Windows on every computer in a medium-sized office, you'll end up paying tens of thousands of dollars. Linux costs as little as US$59 a copy [for commercial distributions] and you can install it on as many computers as you like," Hsu said.
"We're looking to sell to smaller firms who balk at the price of Windows, especially when they see the price tag on Windows 2000."
Linux's other advantage over Windows lies in its low memory requirements of computing power. Companies wishing to upgrade systems may have to buy new, faster hardware to cope with Windows 2000, which can be avoided by using Linux.
Trial marketing of the firm's LinuxLite software at a recent trade show has already shown a growing demand for Linux products, Hsu said.
"Our newly developed LinuxLite is a Chinese-language version of Linux which can run alongside Microsoft Windows," Hsu said.
"And unlike Windows, LinuxLite can be a Web server as well."
LinuxOne Taiwan, which was established on New Year's Day, also provides system integration services and will begin marketing Japanese and Spanish versions of LinuxLite in overseas markets.
The firm has signed an agreement with Japanese firm SRINet to sell Japanese-language Linux software, Hsu said.
In the server market, since Linux has the same functions as major proprietary operating system Unix, major server software programs, such as Apache Web Server, can also be used in the Linux environment.
A July survey by international Web research company International Data Corporation found that Linux's initial impact would be with business users of servers, rather than the home PC user market, with Linux growth mirroring Microsoft's NT.
However, despite Linux's market potential in the server OS market, it is still far behind Microsoft in terms of the number and quality of compatible applications available, Kuo said.
"Linux's weakness lies in the fact that there aren't so many major desktop applications right now which have the power of Microsoft Office. Sun has launched it's free Linux-compatible Star Office software, but it still leaves much to be desired," Kuo said.
Problems not withstanding, Clement Lin (
"Students or MIS people all know it and are very interested. Linux was started by hackers and our magazine provides information for hackers and we have a regular section on Linux news," Lin said.
Linux' strength lies in its hacker origins, Kuo said.
"Hackers and other freelance programmers created the core source at the Linux OS's heart ... which just goes to show -- apart from the negative side, hackers can program."
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