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Red Hat CEO at LinuxCon: What’s next for Linux?

August 26, 2011

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2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Linux, the family of UNIX-like computer systems using the Linux kernel. At the LinuxCon in Vancouver, Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst took a look back at the success of Linux and its prospects for the future.

At the beginning of the presentation Zemlin asked the audience to imagine an unimaginable world, one without stock exchanges, nuclear submarines, consumer electronics devices, and many other systems, all powered by Linux. As expected, there was almost instant recognition of the already toasted achievements of Linux.

They made a quick summary of a few of the milestones achieved by Linux, and the prominent points about how Linux was a ‘transformational technology’, were elaborated. Linux is know as a transformational technology as the technology it empowers, and its advancements and innovations have absolutely nothing to do with the technology of Linux. So it is completely safe to say that Linux supports the development of new business models as well as new technologies.

Also, the ability to use Linux for any purpose, for free, has given rise to many of the things we now take for granted, like Amazon, Facebook, Google etc. It allows for low-cost prototyping, making it easier to innovate, since it is in open source.  Open source refers to those practices in production and development that lead to an end product’s source materials. Nowadays, most leading innovations first take place in open source, and are worked upon by big companies who work to productize that innovation for themselves. Cassandra, Hadoop, etc are some examples of these open source innovations now being taken up by big companies.

Jim Whithurst gave another example of this sort of innovation, now famously known as  Cloud computing. There is no need for end users to understand the user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services .The reason there is no single solid definition of this style of computing is because no single company or vendor pitched it, so they didn’t get to contextualize it. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and other big, complex technologies all actually emerged from a larger collection of technical experts working together. Yahoo, Google etc are examples of Linux powered cloud computing.

The example of an open source development model used by Linux seeing some unusual collaborations was given. The US Navy required a real-time kernel with certain performance characteristics to enable it to develop anti-missile technologies. Linux was not in possession of such a kernel, so it was contributed top them by the Navy. This in turn directly benefited Wall Street, where currently over 70% of stock exchanges rely on Linux and that particular real-time kernel for trading.

After elaborating on all the leaps and bounds made in technology because of Linux, when asked ‘what’s’ next?’ Whitehurst unhesitantly answered “I have no idea.” This uncommon response is somewhat unusual, but makes perfect sense to those familiar with Linux. It has made so much growth in so many markets that it would be foolish to even try to predict what is next from Linux.

Linux also releases much of its infrastructure work for free, despite knowing that their competitors will grab at the earliest chance to make use of it. When asked why they did so, the reply was that they were morally obliged to make the world a better place for everyone, contributors and competitors alike. If they could make someone else’s data centre more efficient or reliable, then it was necessary for them to do so. It was a logical conclusion to a powerful presentation of the many wonders of Linux, what it has achieved, and the prospects it awaits in the future.

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