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Updated State of Linux: Substantial Growth in New Zealand -

The State of Linux: Substantial Growth in New Zealand
by Mark Rais, senior editor

After five years of participating in the OpenSource community here in New Zealand, it is not surprising that OpenSource solutions have grown substantially. When I first started working in an OSS centric company in Wellington, NZ, there were still very few government departments, and fewer organizations that chose to move away from proprietary solutions.

Instead, many focused their efforts on attempting to scale shrink wrapped solutions that would eventually fail to sustain both the growth and the performance requirements. Then they began to integrate (notice I did not say replace) OSS with their existing infrastructure and the results were overt.

Today, half a decade later, New Zealand is among one of the world leading countries in Open Source use. Therefore it is not at all surprising that the next Australasian Open Source Developers Conference will be held in Auckland, New Zealand this October. Given the significant number of Open Source awards and the scope of the projects in 2012, it becomes overt how rapidly OSS is spreading.

As I noted years ago, many of the leading I.T. organizations in both Australia and New Zealand are not only utilizing Linux for key infrastructure, they are expanding overall OSS use. What I did not realize at the time, but now understand far better, is that this growth is more often unspoken and driven one organization at a time, one installation at a time.

I decided to begin my investigations regarding The State of Linux in Asia-Pacific, here in New Zealand. This article is the first in a series. After spending some time in each of the major cities speaking with I.T. leaders and users alike, I find that New Zealand may epitomize successful Linux adoption in this region.

Although this numerically small nation has substantially employed Microsoft products and remains a strong test bed for Microsoft's new initiatives, it is also highly innovative and resourceful. Moreover, nearly 60% of this nation's companies are small or start-up businesses. An ideal place for substantial Open Source adoption.

My inquiries began several years ago with experts such as Peter Harrison, head of The New Zealand Open Source Society, a nonprofit organization to protect, advocate, and advance OSS. Peter Harrison had some very substantive insights. For one thing, Peter states:

"In actual fact, most companies who use Linux are not promoting their products as related to Linux. Yellow Tuna, for example, is a very successful New Zealand company selling firewalls and related services on top of a Linux system. Many companies will be using their product without any real decision to use Linux as such."

Dave Lane, Director of Egressive, an Open Source business solutions company in Christchurch, New Zealand, noted:

"Linux use is often quiet.  There are probably hundreds of schools in South Island already using Linux."

This is also validated by the band of certified Linux engineers, including Jethro Carr, Wellington New Zealand LUG web-master, who points out:

"The best way to deal with the conversion is to treat it just like an upgrade. It's not that big
a deal. People are less scared by it. Don't say new system, say improved system. New is scary. But improved -- improved is good. People think of better features, easier to use, less crashes, etc."

As a result, there is far less emphasis on WHAT is being installed and more on HOW well it will work to address the current needs of the user. While few people are parading Linux and Open Source around, there is plenty of use and adoption.

But this often occurs with little fan fare. Which makes good sense since most people are simply interested in the benefits of software. How something will help their organization. What the software is, who brands it, how it is marketed is of little concern. And what this means to Linux implementation is very important to understand.

The result is obvious. Although Linux deployments are occurring en-mass, they are often not at all emphasized. This makes gaging the true breadth of Linux growth in the region nearly impossible. But it is indeed widespread and widely used.

The story is much the same in Australia (I include details in my next article on Australia). James Niland, our senior moderator, shares:
"MS is very good at influencing the middle management who decide on what gets used.
I'm under the impression though, that the techies have found ways around this. Let the boss run his windows computer but he logs into his domain on a SAMBA server and his emails gets checked by CLAMAV etc.

It seems to be the major rule, if you implement with Linux you don't talk much about it.

Hence I think that there are more Linux machines out there than many people realize."

Therefore, what is happening beneath the surface regarding adoption and use is probably equally as large as what we hear about daily. For every organization or government division that openly declares its Open Source initiatives, there is probably another one that has deployed OSS quietly and subtly.

Andrew Hill, director of the I.T. Solutions company Treshna Enterprises, in Christchurch, New Zealand, mentions:
"Businesses use it but often don't know they are.  They may know they have a Debian or a Red Hat
server, but they won't know too much about the open source movement, the ideals of the freedom granted by the GPL or the make up of software on GNU/Linux."

The reason that Linux use, especially in infrastructure projects, is toned down and subtle has not only to do with Microsoft's marketing but more importantly with keeping the customers happy -- avoiding heaping spoonfuls of technical jargon and philosophy.

A powerful technique, one that has been employed across many organizations in Asia-Pacific region is to upgrade older proprietary software in business to new Open Source options. This not only happens in the server rooms, but also in the office. And it reduces anxiety among business clients regarding new or seemingly experimental things, and shrinks the barrier to entry for rock-solid Linux implementations.

Jethro Carr shares insights on how this is done:

"I have heard of many places slowly converting people from proprietary solutions to OSS, by replacing programs one-at-a-time. One day IE is replace with Firefox. Then MS Office is replaced with Open Office, etc. Eventually, replacing the OS is just the next step. Nothing scary."

Dave Lane from Egressive Ltd. and his business development leader, Rob Fraser, both note:

People have the idea that their organization is a Microsoft shop.  But then -- they find out that many of their servers are running Linux.

Indeed, many I.T. Leaders are still unaware that key infrastructure components have been humming along without issue on systems that cost significantly less and perform well. Often, the very reason implementation of such servers occurs, has to do with the procurement process and the need to get capital budget approval.

Linux offers a very effective way around this. Instead, many administrators and technologists, told to solve their organization's needs promptly, forego the entire money process and install Linux on older servers that may have been sitting idle in the backrooms. They revive and reuse hardware without procurement headaches, while solving business infrastucture needs. All this using Linux, which tends to also afford them greater flexibility and options for future uses.

And what a dramatic time to begin such initiatives. As we approach the dawn of Microsoft Vista and its required upgrades, this option to implement Linux on older hardware becomes far more appetizing even for non-OSS connoisseurs.

This also helps to explain why Linux adoption is growing across sectors. Linux is a best-of-breed offering and alternative that neither governments nor businesses continue to ignore, at least in Australia and New Zealand. The innovative and creative spirit lives on quite thoroughly down in this side of the world.

Mark Rais serves as senior editor for, contributes his tech skills to assist NZ organizations, and written several books on Linux and UNIX, and promotes the use of Open Source software world-wide.

Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. IBM, PC-DOS, and OS/2 are the registered trademarks or trademarks of International Business Machines. Microsoft, Microsoft Vista, Microsoft Windows are all trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.

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