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The future of Linux: Evolving everywhere

Serdar Yegulalp | July 16, 2013
Cemented as a cornerstone of IT, the open source OS presses on in the face of challenges to its ethos and technical prowess

Mark Shuttleworth's recent closure of Ubuntu Linux bug No. 1 ("Microsoft has a majority market share") placed a meaningful, if somewhat controversial, exclamation point on how far Linux has come since Linus Torvalds rolled out the first version of the OS in 1991 as a pet project.

Microsoft may not (yet) have been taken down on the quickly fading desktop, but the nature of computing has changed completely, thanks in large part to Linux's rise as a cornerstone of IT. There's scarcely a part of computing today, from cloud servers to phone OSes, that isn't powered by Linux or in some way affected by it.

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But where from here? If Linux acceptance and development are peaking, where does Linux go from up? Because Linux is such a mutable phenomenon and appears in so many incarnations, there may not be any single answer to that question.

More important, perhaps, is how Linux -- the perennial upstart -- will embrace the challenges of being a mature and, in many areas, market-leading project. Here's a look at the future of Linux: as raw material, as the product of community and corporate contributions, and as the target of any number of challenges to its ethos, technical prowess, and growth.

Linux: Bend it, shape it, any way you want it

If there's one adjective that sums up a significant source of Linux's power, it's "malleable." Linux is raw material that can be cut, stitched, and tailored to fit most any number of scenarios, from tiny embedded devices to massively parallel supercomputers.

That's also been one of Linux's shortcomings. Its protean nature means users rarely use "Linux" -- instead, they use a Linux-based product such as Android, or a hardware device built with a Linux base such as an in-home router. Desktop Linux's multiple (and often incompatible) incarnations winnow out all but the most devoted users.

"How end-users experience Linux is definitely fragmented," admits Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. "But that's one of the powers of Linux.

"It's a building block that has allowed Google to build Android and Chromebooks, Amazon to build the Kindle, Canonical to build Ubuntu, and much more. All of those experiences are different for the user, but there is choice for the consumer."

Mark Baker, Ubuntu Server product manager for Canonical, which leads the Ubuntu project, puts it in almost exactly those words: "Open source delivers freedom of choice." Open source naturally encourages modularity, he says, so "with open source you can choose the best components for your situation," whether you're a user working on a home machine or a systems architect developing a data center.


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