August 24, 2000

The future of Linux

Author: JT Smith

A group of friends and I sat around my hotel room last week, discussing
the future of Linux while emptying the minibar. By the end of the night,
we had discussed a lot of future scenarios, so I figured I should share
them with you here. Some of them are close to what I think will happen,
others are not. I'll let you consider for yourself, and feel free to add
your own in the comments.Linux becomes the world's most popular operating system, on the server as
well as the desktop. The entire software industry moves to an open
development model, and companies in the Linux business do better than any
companies have, ever. Apple goes out of business, and Microsoft
dissolves. Sun falls off the face of the earth. SGI, who jumped on the
Linux bandwagon at the last possible second, manages to
survive with the grace of God and a long-handled spoon.

Let's try another one. Linux dominates the server industry, and becomes
the de facto standard for enterprise applications around the

world. Linux's portability makes it an incredible solution for those who
need to do enterprise on a budget, and wins out over BSD because of higher
user saturation and a new, stronger security package.

Here's a fun one. Since the industry is completely void of standards,
Linux moves into the wireless and portable industry like a shark through
water due to the adaptability of the licensing. Mobile Linux
(developed by Transmeta) runs on almost every wireless computer and PDA,
and power consumption is so low that they've all got strong color screens
and fantastic stereo sound.

Frightened? Try this. Microsoft maintains its stranglehold on the
industry, and by controlling the development platform, holds all the
markets. Other companies who attempt to enter these markets have to go

through Microsoft first. Linux desperately tries to keep up with the
marketing bonanza, and simply cannot organize to the point where they make
an effective saturation point for Linux users. Microsoft takes market
share back, and Linux is pushed out of the server and desktop
markets. The closed-source, proprietary development model just works
better, and customers get fantastic support. Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox
decide to become MSCEs.

Scary, eh? Here's another one. Linux retains an extremely strong hold in
the niche markets of image manipulation, video editing and audio
production. Changes to the Linux kernel make multimedia applications
easier to write and maintain. A desktop video editing machine built with
Linux runs $100 at the local camera shop.

Check this out. Linux dominates the embedded market, and Linux runs on
everything from video cassette recorders to refrigerators, taking the road
paved by Java. I don't know how important this really is, but I'll tell
you one thing: "Embedded" is the new buzzword du jour in the Linux
community. I guess if you're really interested in having Linux running on
small electronic devices, you'll really dig this view of the future. All I
can say is that in this future scenario, all the companies that are
currently putting the words "embedded" and "Linux" into their S-1s are
making a ton of money.

I'm reasonably frightened by most of these, to be quite honest. The worst
part is that the Microsoft-dominated future is less fantastic than
the one where Linux rules the world. I don't think both of them are
dystopias, to be quite honest. People need choice and alternatives. I
think the best future for Linux is to keep growing, keep getting better,
and just let things happen naturally. The best changes are small ones, and
the smaller the change, the better the documentation.

Personally, my hope for the future is that Linux grows in the server
market and dominates the world of digital assistants and network-capable
devices. I don't care what anyone says, Linux isn't anywhere near ready
for the desktop yet, although good motion is being made in that
direction. I don't even want to deal with widespread Linux on the desktop
until it's as easy to use as an iMac.

It's easy for people inside the Linux community to think that Linux is a
lot bigger than it really is. Linux remains a niche product, and though
we're looking toward the future with Linux, the community needs to stay
focused on making the pie bigger without slicing it up just yet. I say,
let's keep the options open and get everywhere we can, simply for the sake
of experimentation.

See you in seven.

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