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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

Coggin is of this mindset: "Linux's huge success, with a vast network of developers and widespread global adoption, means that it is highly resilient. Although patent threats arise from time to time, as they do with many technologies, it seems unlikely that a patent or combination of patents could pose an existential threat to Linux."

Plus, competition in the form of other closed source products, or even those with more liberal licensing (such as the various BSDs), hasn't really materialized to the degree that Linux runs the risk of being pushed aside.

Sammer sums up the biggest legitimate threat to Linux in a single word: complacency -- the complacency that goes with becoming a market leader in any field.

"If you're vying for first place," he says, "you're usually more open to change of process, of mindset, of road map, of status quo, whatever. I can't help but think of Firefox losing so much to Chrome so fast, or the commercial Unixes losing to Linux, or all the other examples of such things."

In roughly the same vein, Zemlin sees a threat in the form of a lack of experienced Linux talent to support the demand; hence the Linux Training program.

Gillen sees a threat coming from a transition that "over time, moves the majority of the Linux user community from the enterprise customer over to service providers."

Such a move would put Linux users at the mercy of people who may consume Linux and provide it as a service but don't return their innovations to the community as a whole. It may take a decade or more for such a shift to happen, but it could have "negative implications for Linux overall, and to commercial vendors that sell Linux-based solutions."

Another possible threat to Linux is corporate co-opting -- not of the code itself, but of the possibilities it provides. Baker is worried about the rise of mobile devices, many of which, although powered by Linux, are powered all the more by corporate concerns.

"That's why we need alternatives like Ubuntu and Firefox," says Baker, "to provide real alternatives for those who do not want their experience of the Internet to be determined by Apple or Google."

Of those two, Google -- by way of Android -- is the main offender in this accusation. Many of the arguments against Android revolve around it being a Linux-powered OS that's little more than a portal to Google's view of the world, and thus isn't true to the spirit of Linux.

In short, the biggest threats to Linux may well be from within -- unintended by-products of the very things that make it most attractive in the first place. Its inherent mutability and malleability has so far given it an advantage over complacency and co-opting, but it isn't clear that will always be true.


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