Enterprise Linux Log

Aug 18 2011   9:00PM GMT

LinuxCon experts eye the future of Linux

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

VANCOUVER  B.C. — The Linux Foundation is celebrating the 20th birthday of Linux in style, with a black tie dinner event at the Commodore Ballroom, and state-of-the-art staging for the livestreamed keynote events at the third annual LinuxCon.

Throughout the week, conference attendees have been regaled with stories, celebrating the milestones of Linux, from its inception, initial adoption, and growing community support while looking forward to eventual world-domination — perhaps just not on the desktop.

On Wednesday, three Linux gurus joined the stage with Linux Foundation President, Jim Zemlin to reminisce and share their wisdom about Linux’s future path. Each shared their story of their first interaction with Linux, from compiling the OS from a CD in 1993 to a late introduction in 1998 at a forum on high-performance computing. The individual anecdotes were interesting and humorous, with a lot of audience laughter and the recollection of dissenting voices who had predicted that Linux wasn’t viable.

Dan Frye, Vice President of open systems development at IBM, and Jon “Maddog” Hall, Executive Director at Linux International were optimistic about the future of Linux, while Eben Moglen, Director-Counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center was a bit more guarded.

The fun thing is what we understood early on is that Linux is an enabler of innovation,” said Frye. “As an enabler, you’re nowhere and everywhere,” explaining that Linux shows up in usual places such as Tivo and in-car entertainment and control systems as well as mainframes and supercomputers.

The Web and Linux have changed civilization,” said Moglen. “Linux is the steel and coal of the 21st Century industrial revolution.” But, he warned, “Parties who have enough resources to spend the kind of money it would have taken to build Linux are acquiring the munitions to destroy it.” Oh downer! But before you get all scared about the future usability and stability of the operating system, let’s clarify that Linux has been through all of this before (remember a little thing called SCO?), and the community around Linux is bigger and stronger than ever.

Moglen railed against these efforts to unseat the innovation that Linux and open source provide the world, calling them a waste — of time, money, and energy that could be more productively spent doing something good.

Before you get too concerned about some lurking massive lawsuit that could bring down Linux, Zemlin assured me that there weren’t any specific efforts or lawsuits underway. He also stressed that this issue is not Linux-specific — it affects all software, open source or not.

As for any concrete predictions about the future of Linux, Zemlin joked that 2011 would be the year of the desktop. He’s said it at each LinuxCon so far, and maybe one day he’ll be right. Perhaps through opportunistic placement of Linux in educational facilities across the globe, such as the work that Userful Corporation discussed in their Wednesday afternoon session, Linux can one day infiltrate that Windows-dominated market.

The most quoted line from the conference concerning the future of Linux that appeared on Twitter was that of Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst who said that he didn’t know what was next for Linux.

In his morning keynote, he stressed the innovation that Linux enables as being the most important thing, and he made this statement: “Linux has gone from catching up to leading innovation.” And it’s true. The more I look around and see the technological changes that we have experienced in the last 20 years, Linux is involved in so many ways. It’s really incredible when you think about the power of the community to get so much accomplished in a way that makes so much technology accessible to so many people.

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