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The odds keep changing as the proponents of the three leading operating systems race for adoption by bankers, application vendors and developers.

The influence of Linux has created new choices in the marketplace, resulting in an unparalleled opportunity for banks to develop ground-breaking technology architectures, whether or not they eventually adopt the new operating system. For the major software camps - IBM, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft - Linux represents a monumental strategic turning point, and the resulting computing environment for their customers is no less revolutionary.

In the early days of enterprise computing, there was a one-to-one correspondence among hardware platforms, operating systems and applications. Applications were written to run on specific operating systems, and an operating system worked only on a certain class of hardware. The entire "stack" comprised an indivisible unit.

But thanks to the influence of Linux, that cozy world is gone.

Linus Torvalds began writing the Linux operating system in 1991 to teach himself how to use the Intel 80386 chip. As such, the program was initially designed to take advantage of the chip's idiosyncrasies. But the operating system itself was not idiosyncratic - it was based on the same technical specifications as the Unix operating system running on mainframes. Linux soon gained adherents. Some were attracted by the philosophy of the open-source movement, while others found it to be an inexpensive way to host a Web server.

Technology professionals quickly recognized the business potential of Linux. By porting Unix applications to Linux, it would be possible to swap out high-cost Unix servers for commodity x86 machines. Until that point, the only migration option for a Unix shop had been to rebuild and redevelop under Windows, which typically was not an attractive proposition for companies with significant legacy investments.

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