September 28, 2000

Community, technology, industry: Back to basics

Author: JT Smith

By Emmett Plant
NewsForge Columnist

Speaking of GNU/Linux

Over the past nine years Linux has grown from humble beginnings as a
hobby project into a full-blown server operating system. For most of this
time, Linux was slowly built by volunteers around the world sending in
code snippets and re-writes. The times have changed. Linux still maintains
its community roots, but now companies all over the world are using Linux
in many different capacities as an operating system, a marketing tool, and
an alternative to the mainstream. The future of Linux depends on the
community, the technology and the industry working hand-in-hand.

The Linux community is a large group of motivated individuals who defy
categorization. Fifty-year-old men who hack on UNIX machines,
20-somethings building webservers, and 16-year-old kids who want
to run online games all share the same table at the computer user
country club. Thanks to the General Public License and the concept of Open
Source and Free Software, the courts are open and everyone is invited to
play. It seems that there are all kinds of different Linux fans, and
they've all got their own reasons for being here. The old UNIX guys want
a cheaper alternative to the commercial Unices, the server guys want
something powerful and fast, and the kids want to create killer games and
build a new future for the industry. To a large degree, the Linux
community is made up of casual mad scientists, finding new and interesting
uses for Linux in their daily life, whether that be at work or play.

The technology behind Linux is ancient. Linux is based on the UNIX
hierarchy, and that's just another polymer in the glue that binds the
community together. While Linux isn't officially a UNIX, it is a UNIX
"work-alike" that echoes the voice of systems past. Linux isn't impressive
because it is an illegitimate grandchild of UNIX. Linux is impressive
because the open nature of its development has captured the eyes and
hearts of an industry searching for good alternatives in a proprietary
Microsoft world. Also, Linux runs on a vast number of different hardware
platforms, so trading software with your friends and colleagues becomes an
infinitely easier task.

The Linux industry is big, and getting bigger by the minute. Huge
companies like IBM and Compaq are doing their part to promote Linux on
laptops and servers. Companies like Cobalt and VA Linux are using Linux
to build new hardware solutions. Companies like Helix Code and Eazel are
writing software to make Linux more accessible to the Windows
crowd. Companies like SSC, Imagine Media and O'Reilly are working hard to
create the publications that teach people how to use Linux and revel in
the spirit of the fast-paced industry. No matter what happens in Silicon
Valley or Wall Street, the true future of Linux lives in the hearts and
hard drives of the Linux community.

For Linux to realize the myriad of goals put forth by the community, the
industry needs to find new and interesting ways to do business. This is a
good thing, for the Linux industry as well as business in general. Because
the computer industry has been dominated by Microsoft for years, only
super-new ideas and incredible products will stand out from the rest of
the pack. Companies in the Linux industry are sponsoring projects that
might have nothing to do with their business in order to be viewed as a
contender in the Linux marketplace. The companies that understand and
foster the Open Source and Free Software ideals are the ones that are
succeeding in the eyes of the community.

No one expected the computer industry to create a win-win situation in the
wake of monopolistic tendencies. For a lot of us, it has been a long time
coming. We've been excited about Linux for years, and we love the look of
new converts to the cause. We're winning a battle that didn't exist when
we started, a battle we never thought we'd see. The industry is finally
looking to the community for answers, and utilizing the technology to
create fantastic solutions.

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