Shedding Light on Linux
Will the new OS have a bright future in design and publishing?
Some Wall Street types are already bullish on Linux, having profited from related stock market moves, such as the recent, high-soaring IPO (initial public offering) by Red Hat, a commercial distributor of the fledgling open-source operating system.
However, while day traders can cash in on any technology fad enjoying its 15 minutes of fame in the public eye and financial community, publishers and graphic designers count on digital developments with long-term, industry-specific viability.
So, is Linux just a fly-by-night financial fancy, or will it become a staple in print and Web production portfolios, joining blue chips like Mac, Windows and UNIX incarnations?
One industry supplier that's backing Linux as a professional publishing platform for the new millennium is SGI, a Mountain View, CA-based provider of graphics workstations, servers and displays. SGI has already announced Linux support for server products, with additional news expected soon.
In an exclusive conversation with Publishing & Production Executive, Wayne Arvidson, global industry manager for SGI's digital media markets, explains why SGI rates the OS a strong buy for graphic arts users and reveals his company's Linux-leveraging strategy.
Publishing & Production Executive: In a nutshell, what is Linux and what's the hook for our industry?
Wayne Arvidson: Linux is a UNIX-like OS (operating system) that runs on Intel architectures. The primary advantage [for graphics and production professionals] is that Linux-based solutions can offer a lot of performance capabilities—like multitasking and fault tolerance—at economies of scale more in line with PC systems.
P&PE: We've learned that the central part of Linux, its kernel, was developed by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and that the OS was completed by members of the Free Software Foundation under the GNU General Public License so that the Linux source code is available free to any individual or organization. Obviously, not every prospective user can or wants to do his or her own Linux programming. Since the code's release, other companies have developed their own commercial versions of Linux (for which they may charge a fee), adding customized feature sets. Can you identify some of these suppliers?
Arvidson: There are several distributions of Linux currently. At SGI, we're primarily focused on three: Red Hat in the United States, and SuSE and Turbo Linux internationally. We're supporting various versions due to localization issues in Europe and the Pacific Rim. We do pre-install the OS on our Linux-based solutions.
P&PE: Is there hardware support for Linux now?
Arvidson: A lot of vendors have announced support; however, levels of support can vary greatly. Since Linux is compatible with with Intel 32-bit architecture, theoretically, the OS can run without extra engineering on any Dell- or Gateway-type box. At SGI, we're working on overlays that will run on top of Linux to allow the OS to take advantage of our hardware. We're also taking components of our IRIX 64-bit system and making them available to the open-source community to facilitate development of 64-bit-based versions of Linux. [IRIX is SGI's UNIX-based OS technology.] We're very committed to the open-source movement. In fact, we've already released the source code of our OpenGL Sample Implementation, which will enable professional OpenGL implementations on Linux. [OpenGL is SGI's high-end 3D graphics API, already utilized by a number of developers, including Apple Computer.]
P&PE: What design and publishing applications are best suited to Linux?
Arvidson: Everything from graphics to server and RIP applications to asset management—for both print and Web jobs.
P&PE: Which of those aforementioned applications will Linux-based solutions address first?
Arvidson: We'll see initial implementation, probably by year's end, in two key areas: RIPs, based on Linux's performance advantages; and high-end graphics. Linux is ideal for working with large files, such as for packaging.
P&PE: Are any industry software applications running on Linux-based systems now?
Arvidson: There are some applications that are related to workflow management available from industry vendors such as Torque Systems, DALiM and Helios. At Seybold [this February], we demonstrated several apps running on Linux, including Helios EtherShare Linux version server. At this point, we're starting to see mainstream graphics software companies, like Adobe Systems, announce Linux support in some of their products. In general, developers find that they can get a much more robust product at PC prices. We expect many Linux-related announcements by various suppliers at DRUPA in May—and some even before the show.
P&PE: How would you expect a professional design or production studio to integrate Linux into its established, possibly already cross-platform, production workflow?
Arvidson: We are going to see the same type of interoperability tools that are available now for Mac-PC cross-platform graphic arts workflows enabling Linux integration.
P&PE: Can you explain more fully the way in which Linux fits into SGI's overall workstation and server strategy for digital media markets?
Arvidson: We will continue to develop IRIX, partially due to a long-term commitment to the U.S. government for high-end systems. IRIX will still be our highest-performance solution; we will then migrate certain IRIX features down to Linux and the rest of the open-source community. This allows us to work with our software partners to develop high-end systems [that are more accessible to] the high-volume market. We've found that, for our IRIX developers, the port over to Linux is very straightforward.
P&PE: How will you position your Linux-based solutions vs. Macs and NT systems?
Arvidson: We enjoy a great level of cooperation with Apple, and that will continue. Already, the bulk of our sales are supplemental tools to Mac desktop systems. With Linux, it's possible that some of our higher-end workstations will be replaced by Linux-based desktop solutions. For example, there a lot of graphics customers we haven't touched because our IRIX price points are out of reach for many small- and medium-size businesses. Also, Linux becomes an affordable option for companies that don't want to go NT for stability reasons.
P&PE: As we wait for product rollout, what factors
are contributing to resistance of Linux acceptance and adoption? What is SGI doing to help remove those roadblocks in our industry?
Arvidson: The biggest pushback is stemming from the fact that Linux is an open-source application. It's an accountability issue: People fear that if they buy a peripheral or download a driver, those devices will not have been tested for compatibility with particular Linux systems. They're worried that they'll have a hard time [getting support] if something goes wrong. For example, there's a very large printer looking at Linux now, but the company's biggest fear as they consider the OS is unsupported peripherals.That's why we are committed to developing fully supported Linux solutions. All the peripherals and software for our systems will be certified by SGI. We are supporting Linux to the same extent that we support IRIX.
P&PE: Readers who want to learn more about Linux can turn to Web sites, such as Linux Online! at www.linux.org for information. Can you recommend any other educational resources?
Arvidson: SGI offers Linux University, which comprises seminars in key U.S. cities to help developers, end user and executives understand the OS, applications and potential impact. The program's topics include: Security in Linux, Graphics on Linux-Open GL and Performer, Software Development Tools, Linux for the Internet-Web Serving and Media Serving, XFS/CXFS Networking and Clustering on Linux, and Linux 64. Updated information about Linux University can be found on our Web site at www.sgi.com. Another source of extremely reliable, worthwhile information is the LinuxWorld trade show [Web site: www.linuxworldexpo.com].