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Unix blog

Friday, March 10, 2006

Movielink announces deal for UMPC exposure

With the hotly anticipated announcement yesterday that Microsoft is launching a new portable platform called Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) positioned between tablets and PDAs, other companies can be expected to jump on that horse and ride it as far as they can. One of those companies is Movielink, the video-on-demand service that appears to have the largest lead in a very slow sack race. Movielink is trying to place itself in the position of becoming to the UMPC platform and the movie industry what iTMS has been to the iPod and the music industry. Yesterday, the company, which already caters only to users of Windows 2000 and XP, announced a partnership with Microsoft in which Movielink will be "the premier brand and provider of video content for the UMPC."

What that means exactly is still unexplained. Movielink's level of integration with UMPC could range anywhere from tightly integrated services to getting a default icon in the Program Launcher. Smart money probably rides somewhere in between, with emphasis on the latter. Microsoft is unlikely to tie its interface too tightly to a company it doesn't own, and even if MS had intentions to purchase Movielink somewhere down the road, the inevitable antitrust scrutiny that such a move would bring would probably keep Movielink's contributions to the platform subtle at best.

Even if Movielink's integration is minimal, this could be a big move for that company. History has shown—as in the cases of Internet Explorer or iTMS—that simple convenience can go a long way toward adoption and popularity. In either of those examples, it can be argued that there are better alternatives, but they are popular due to their ubiquity.

So far, Movielink hasn't exactly taken the world by storm. Although there are several major studios involved with the company, the selection of available movies is far from complete. Netflix is currently the most popular player in the "get a movie without getting off the couch" game, but it's unlikely that their relatively slow physical delivery model will continue to satisfy consumers forever. Electronic delivery, via On Demand or a service like Movielink is probably destined to replace it, once the studios' concerns about copy protection issues are addressed to their satisfaction.

However, Movielink's potential success in this case is tied directly to the success of the UMPC platform itself. Watching any video content on a larger screen than an iPod's certainly has its appeal, but don't expect consumers to purchase UMPCs just for the ability to view Lord of the Rings on the bus. UMPC will sink or swim based on its usefulness as a computer platform—most likely as an Internet machine with additional capabilities—and Movielink is banking on the hope that this untested platform will be successful.

Legal video downloading in some form or another is an inevitable part of our future. With iTMS expanding its selection of TV offerings, simultaneous releases of movies in multiple formats, and rumors of a combination downloading/DVD system swirling around Amazon, the only questions are who and how. Who will come up with the system that stabilizes this very new market, and how will it be implemented? Depending on the popularity of UMPC, Movielink's link to UMPC will likely turn out to be a shot in the arm...or a shot in the dark.

Windows passes Unix in server sales

Long the server operating system of choice for corporations and universities, Unix has seen its lead in the server OS market slip in recent years. Both Windows and Linux have been eating away at Unix market share for a few years, and the growing popularity of those two operating systems has taken its toll on Unix sales. As of the end of 2005, Unix is no longer the #1 server OS in terms of sales, according to market research firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker.

For the year 2005, Windows accounted for US$17.7 billion of worldwide server revenues, while Unix came in second place at US$17.5 billion. Linux came in third place with US$5.7 billion, but showed the strongest year-over-year growth with a 20.8 percent increase in revenues compared with 2004. Windows also grew, but at a slower pace, with 4.7 percent revenue growth year-over-year. The US$17.5 billion in revenues for Unix represented a 5.9 percent drop from 2004 figures.

Why is Unix getting hammered? There are a number of reasons. First would be the increasing maturity of both Windows and Linux. Unix has been around for around four decades by now, whereas Windows and Linux are comparative newcomers to the server world. However, the collaborative strength of the open source community and the financial might of Microsoft have been sufficient to spur development of their respective OSes by leaps and bounds.

In addition, there have been some notable changes in hardware. For much of recent history, "big iron" Unix servers running on SPARCs, POWER, and even Itanium chips have been the platform of choice for large corporations. Although IBM and Sun have continued to work on and improve their CPU lines, the x86 architecture has seen remarkable growth, especially with the arrival of comparatively low-cost options like the 64-bit Opteron CPU from AMD. IDC points out that unit shipments of x86 servers grew by 13.7 percent and almost 80 percent of those were 64-bit CPUs.

More interesting, perhaps, is the growth of blades. Attractive because of their form factor, ability to run several of them off of a single power supply, and the ability to hot swap them in and out of clusters, blades saw a 49.3 percent increase in units shipped in 2005 vs. 2004. IDC expects blades to continue growing in popularity in the years ahead.

Is Unix in danger of going the way of the dinosaur? Not anytime soon. Linux and Windows will continue to grow in popularity at the expense of Unix, but companies are increasingly willing to run mixed environments. In addition, many IT decision-makers believe that certain server OSes are better at specific tasks, meaning Unix has a long life ahead of it in the server rooms around the world.