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Will Linux Skyrocket In Developing Countries?

By Chet Dembeck
Jul 16, 1999 12:00 AM PT

Penguin Computing, a manufacturer of Linux-based hardware solutions, predicts that Linux will soon become the operating system of choice in developing countries -- but don't count Microsoft out.

Nick Thompson, Penguin's director of marketing and the author of a book comparing development in Ghana and Thailand, said Linux makes economic sense in countries where the per-capita income is less than $5,000 a year.

"Using an operating system that is free is more desirable than paying hundreds of dollars for Windows," Thompson added.

Linus Torvalds, a Finnish graduate student, created the operating system that's based on the Unix operating system in 1991 -- making it available for free via the Internet. Since then it's been gaining ground on Microsoft every year.

According to International Data Corp., Linux shipments will grow 25 percent from 1999 through 2003 -- more than twice the 10 to 12 percent growth of other workstation and server systems. But some analysts point out that this growth will be eclipsed when developing countries like China, Russia and Vietnam begin embracing Linux.

Not Microsoft-centric

Another factor why Linux use could likely soar throughout the developing world is that Windows is not widely used by the masses in these countries, according to Sam Ockman, Penguin's president and founder.

"Few people living in developing countries have been forced for years to use Microsoft machines,'' he said. "Therefore, many of our international customers have not developed Microsoft-centric computer habits."

This is one reason Penguin announced this week that it will begin offering sales and technical support in foreign languages including Japanese, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

Will Microsoft sit still?

But surely Bill Gates and company can read the handwriting on the wall. It would be naive to believe that Microsoft would sit idly by -- while Windows is swallowed whole. This is the part of the story that seems to force Linux-lovers into denial.

Gates will probably react by opening up Windows code and/or develop an MS Linux product backed up by his worldwide network of partners. Either action could neutralize companies like Penguin, while making Gates the new king of Linux.

I know this scenario is tantamount to blasphemy to many in the Linux community, but for once I'd like someone to convince me why it couldn't happen.


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