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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

Where from here?

Linux is unquestionably here to stay, and in more than one form. But how it will do that and at what cost are up for debate.

The most obvious future path for Linux is where it becomes that much more of a substrate for other things -- a way to create infrastructure -- and where it becomes that much less a product unto itself in any form. The real innovation doesn't just come from deploying Linux, but deploying it as a way to find creative solutions to problems, by delivering it in such a way that few people are forced to deal with Linux as such, and by staying a step ahead of having it put behind technological bars.

Coggin puts it this way: "Linux is emerging beyond that of a packaged or flexible operating system to become more of an infrastructure platform. With this, we see developers and architects using Linux to build next-generation solutions, and creating next-generation enterprise architectures." Much of this work is already under way, he claims, in "cloud, big data, mobile, and social networks."

Gillen, too, agrees that Linux "is going to be a very key part of public cloud infrastructure, and as such, it has ensured itself a long-term role in the industry."

"Linux already runs the cloud, of that there is no doubt," says Baker. "It needs to maintain its position as the platform for scale-out computing -- this means staying ahead of new technologies like ARM server chips and hyperscale, software-defined networking, and the overall software-defined data center." Such work ought to complement other ongoing efforts to create open system hardware designs, such as the Open Compute Project's.

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One possible downside of Linux becoming an ubiquitous infrastructure element is it becoming as institutionalized as the commercial, closed source Unixes it has displaced. But Zemlin thinks Linux's very mutability works in its favor here: "If you would have asked Linus Torvalds or other members of the community a decade ago if Linux would power more mobile phones than any other platform, they certainly wouldn't have expected that. We'd rather just watch where it goes and not try to forecast since we most certainly will be wrong."

Another important future direction for some is, as mentioned above, "go[ing] mobile in a bigger way independently of Google," as Baker puts it. Projects like Mozilla's Firefox OS for phones are one incarnation of this, although it's unclear how much of a dent such a thing will make in Google's existing, and colossal, market share for Android.


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