August 15, 2000

Peering into the future of Open Source

Author: JT Smith

By Tina Gasperson
News Editor

Got a crystal ball? Trying to pin down the future of any movement in the high-tech industry is a risky proposition. The amount of change and the number of innovations in the last decade alone borders on mind-boggling. With Open Source, the problem multiplies because there is no blueprint to follow -- only the whims of a randomly created community. Itâs true that thereâs no group consensus, but for Open Source, these aspirations loom large on the horizon: improvement of relationships with corporate America, and deepening of already established roots in the scientific community.

Talking nice to the big guys

At any given moment on the Internet, there are petition drives, letter writing campaigns, and even contests to see who can pen the most enticing missive to the creators of our favorite Linux-impaired applications. The debate rages on between the "liberals," who want to flame them and shame them into paying attention to the open source community, and the "conservatives," who, while not exactly embracing big business and corporate cost centers, still see the merits of convincing companies that Linux users are a sane, decent lot -- and a community that, if maybe not quite sufficient in numbers to make a difference in the bottom line today, is rapidly progressing in that direction.

"I think the biggest change weâll see over the next two to three years is that the open source community and corporations will begin interacting more," says Mike Shaver, former Open Source evangelist at, and currently chief software officer at Zero-Knowledge Systems, a privacy and identity management company located in Montreal. "The community has traditionally been anti-commercial, but both sides are starting to realize that they can extend their reach this way. And the corporations are seeing that this way of making software makes a lot of sense."

Open Source science

Already a familiar sight in many science labs at colleges around the country, Linux is making further inroads in the bleeding-edge scientific community because its flexibility and multi-user capability make it easy to develop the applications necessary to carry out complex experiments. One such project is at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where researchers are mapping lightning activity in spatial dimensions and in time. Linux, running on a bunch of cheap PCs, is the backbone of the entire operation.

According to an article in the July 2000 issue of the Linux Journal, written by NM Tech Graduate Student Timothy Hamlin, the project would be impossible if not for the flexibility and stability of Linux. Says Hamlin, "Show me a Windows box that can run for nearly a year, network constantly, and archive over 100GB of data without so much as a hiccup!"

Because of this characteristic strength, stability, and longevity, look for Linux to show up in more and more new and advancing technology, like wearable computers. Have you seen the GNU/Linux videophone wristwatch yet? This ordinary-looking watch has a screen that can display 640x480, 24 bit color, and outputs live video images using XF86. The creators are still working out some issues with the watch -- specifically dealing with user input on such a tiny interface.

One of the most ambitious and futuristic projects underway is the ENGwear project, at the Humanistic Intelligence Lab in the University of Toronto. ENGwear is a GNU project that "uses the Internet as the most powerful, openly accessible medium of today by tapping into the mind's eye, allowing individuals to record live, relevant content, and broadcast their message to the world." Sounds rather esoteric today, but look for this intuitive, wearable technology to become commonplace in the next five to 10 years.


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