March 2004--Linux, the open-source operating system long popular with programmers, is being used by more U.S. companies and in more products.

According to Forrester Research Inc., 14% of U.S. companies--namely telecom, retail and services and technology companies--have Linux in production, a 66% increase over 2002.

It seems Linux may become a formidable competitor against Microsoft in the embedded systems market. Specialized versions of Linux are powering many popular devices. TiVo, Volvo, Sony Playstation, Texas Instruments, and the Korean electronics company Samsung, to name a few, are using Linux embedded operating systems in their products.

Linux, developed by Finnish student Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s, is gaining popularity for several reasons. It isn't owned by anyone, meaning there are no licensing fees such as those users of Microsoft operating systems must pay. Also, Linux is open-source, meaning users can modify code to include new features in applications, or even write their own applications. So it allows companies to build any features they want into their products' operating system without worrying about licensing. And a growing Web community of support is making it easier for people to troubleshoot Linux applications and operating systems.

Though Linux's marketshare of server operating systems is difficult to measure because many system administrators download and install free versions of Linux, a Gartner research study estimates the market for Linux operating systems could reach over a billion dollars by 2007.