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(Nikkei BP Group)

(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)

  • Linux Surfaces As Alternative to Windows NT
  • September 21, 1998 (TOKYO) -- In Japan as well as in the United States, Linux, free UNIX software, is surfacing rapidly as a new alternative for a server operating system to replace Windows NT.
    Cases where Japanese companies are applying Linux to their enterprise systems have been increasing gradually. Since the beginning of July 1998, a move to accelerate Linux use has been seen (See table).

    Not only does Linux provide high reliability and high performance as an operating system; it also enables users to reference and modify the source code freely as they like. This makes Linux welcomed by users.

    Uneasiness felt by users about a lack of support is incident to free software, but it is being solved by an increase of system integrators offering Linux support services. In addition to medium- and small-scale integrators, large-scale integrators and software vendors have begun to take actions in the Linux business.

    Linux Debuted As First NT Pursuer

    In the United States on July 21 and 22, 1998, well-known vendors announced the release of a Linux version of their products, including Oracle Corp., Netscape Communications Corp. and Informix Software Inc. In Japan, Linux-enabled relational database (RDB) software, word processing software and office suites to run in Japanese have debuted in rapid succession.

    For example, Ado Electronic Industrial Co., Ltd., a leading vendor managing a big PC shop named T.ZONE, has also penetrated the Linux business.

    So far, Linux has been handled only by medium- and small-scale system integrators. But, here, large-scale vendors have forecast a good business opportunity in it, and have finally made their debut in the Linux market.

    There are an estimated 4-7 million Linux users all over the world, out of which users in Japan seem to number about 300,000 to 500,000. In the latter half of 1996, the first Linux distribution software package was launched, enabling users to make their system installation very easy. Since then, Linux has become even more familiar to users.

    FreeBSD is available as free UNIX to run on PCs, and today in Japan, many are FreeBSD users. FreeBSD runs not only on IBM PC-AT compatibles, but on the NEC PC-9800 Series, which boasts the top market share in Japan. At the same time, the UNIX brand of BSD has won a good reputation in the market. But, from now on, reflecting the U.S. and European countries' interest in Linux, users of Linux are anticipated to increase in Japan as well.

    One of the main factors for the increase of Linux users in the domestic market is a boom of Internet use in the background. Since Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) inaugurated open computer network (OCN), an Internet access service, in December 1996, even medium- and small-scale companies have come to easily install the Internet. And, universities and senior high schools have been promoting Internet installation.

    Linux is used not only on the Internet, but on servers such as file sharing, groupware and database. And, these user companies give high customer satisfaction ratings to Linux.

    In Japan, users virtually don't have a choice other than the Windows NT server for a PC server operating system. Consequently, Linux has high marketability as another major choice.

    Improved Support Availability

    Today, Linux user companies are divided into two groups by management style. One is a group that manages the Linux systems completely by themselves without vendors' assistance. This kind of management is often seen in companies with an efficient and large enough business scale to have their own information system divisions. In this case, the user companies themselves are responsible for management, but at the same time, they have as a weak point management that tends to depend on individual special engineers.

    The other group requests system integrators to completely manage the Linux systems. This pattern is often seen in medium- and small-scale companies. In this case, the integrators bear the responsibility, but one problem is that integrators which can handle Linux are small in number.

    Today, support vendors have increased considerably. Linux Business Initiative (LBI) is a group of system integrators to provide Linux support services for a fee. The member companies numbered five at the foundation time in February, and increased to 16 as of August 1998.

    In July, Fujitsu Business Systems Ltd. and Otsuka Shokai Co., Ltd., leading systems integrators, started Linux-based systems integration businesses. Hitachi Software Engineering Co., Ltd. has been running ahead in this field since 1997. This means that the big-three systems integrators with a countrywide support network handle the Linux systems.

    So far, Linux distribution sales companies have not been engaged in user support, but are now planning to offer the support service sooner or later. Pacific HiTech Inc., Itsutsubashi Research Co., Ltd. and others are preparing for the Linux support business.

    In addition, PC makers have begun Linux user support services. On July 11, 1998, Ado Electronic Industry launched a tower-type PC with pre-installed Linux as a product of its PC shop T.ZONE's own brand. Further, the company plans to release an Internet server in the middle of September this year. It says it will provide an around-the-clock support desk service in the same way as the PC support service.

    However, leading PC makers that also are leading system integrators do not intend to handle Linux at this stage. They will provide commercial PC UNIX as a choice to replace Windows NT, because they do not wish to be responsible for an operating system not developed by themselves. While commercial UNIX also is not an operating system developed by themselves, but they can place the responsibility on the operating system vendors if trouble occurs on the commercial UNIX systems.

    Vendors Pay Attention to Business Systems as RDB Debut

    When a business system runs on a PC server, RDB applications play a key role in the operation. Since June this year, business Linux-based RDB products to run in Japanese have appeared in the market continuously. They are InterBase, EMPRESS and Informix.

    On June 10, 1998, RIOS Corp. began to offer a Linux version of InterBase 4.0 for free through its home page. The company said that it recorded 1,086 downloads for two months, out of which about 90 percent were company users.

    Late in August this year, Empress Japan started to ship a Linux version of EMPRESS 6.10 as the latest version.

    John Kornatowski, president of Empress Software Inc. of Canada, said, "Sales of Linux products still remain small scale, but have been growing three times faster than the previous year. When I tried to sell Linux in Japan two years ago, Linux users were still small in number. So, I once gave up Linux sales, but I have decided to do business again, because the users have begun to increase this year."

    Further, Informix KK of Japan began to ship the latest Linux version of Informix-SE on Sept. 16, 1998.

    But Oracle, with the largest share in the RDB market, and Sybase Inc., have not yet released a Japanese version.

    Upon receiving requests from user companies, Sybase asked its U.S. headquarters to launch Linux-based products. At this point, only Oracle Corp. Japan, the largest RDB vendor, has yet to decide whether to ship Linux-based products in Japan.

    PostgreSQL is enjoying the largest number of users in the free RDB software field, and a Japanese version was released in March 1998.

    Table: Main actions taken by the domestic computer industry for Linux in 1998



    Five domestic system integrators established "Linux Business Initiative (LBI)" as a group to aim at promoting Linux use for business purposes.


    Hitachi Software Engineering Co., Ltd. released a PC server with pre-installed Linux.


    VACS Corp. began a service to gratis download a prototype

    version of a front-end processor to run in Japanese.



    RIOS Corp. began a service to gratis download a Linux version of InterBase, an RDB product to run in Japanese



    Nissho Electronics Corp. released a server with preinstalled Linux.



    Pacific HiTech Inc. released Linux-enabled office suite products to run in Japanese.



    Ado Electronic (T.ZONE) released a PC with preinstalled Linux.



    Fujitsu Business Systems Ltd. began a refresh service by installing Linux on an old-type PC.



    Informix KK announced a domestic shipping plan for a Linux version of Informix-SE.



    Otsuka Shokai Co., Ltd. released a PC server with pre-installed Linux.



    Omron Software Co., Ltd. released Linux-enabled word processing software to run in Japanese.



    VACS released a Linux-enabled front end processor in Japanese

    Late August

    Empress Japan released a Linux version of EMPRESS, an RDB-based product to run in Japanese.

    (return to news)

    Related stories:
    Relational Database Software for Linux to Debut in Japan
    Japan System Integrators to Set Up Linux Group
    Otsuka Shokai Provides NEC, IBM Japan Servers With Linux
    Commercial RDBMS For PC/Linux Unveiled in Japan

    (Masahiro Nakamura, Staff Editor, Nikkei Computer)

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    Updated: Fri Sep 18 16:45:57 1998 PDT