I hope the year for Linux never comes

I hope the year for Linux never comes


Toward the end of 2005 I was reading about “the year for Linux” everywhere I went. No matter where I looked, I always found articles by GNU/Linux fans (like me) that expected this year (2006) to be “the year for Linux” (once and for all). In fact, it’s been quite a few years now that I’ve been reading that “this will be the year for Linux”. And let me tell you something: I don’t want the year for Linux to come... ever! Period.

This issue mostly surrounds the desktop arena. It’s already well known that GNU/Linux is powering the 500 most powerful computers in the world (Microsoft, of course, wants to get a piece of the supercomputing pie with its HPC version—I always rejoice at the thought of 100,000 bluescreens of death popping up in an otherwise beautiful Windows-powered cluster), and Apache’s web serving market share has never been jeopardized by IIS (even they have had to learn the hard way that the tightly-coupled fashion just wasn’t the way). There are other places in the enterprise where Windows will be difficult to dislodge... But, even in those places, there’s a battle going on.

Let me tell you something: I don’t want the year for Linux to come... ever!

In the four and a half years since I first used a GNU/Linux box, it has been amazing for me to see how handling Linux has gone from being such a pain to get used to (for a winuser like I was back then), to what it is today. There are distributions now that are so simple to use that all you have to do is put a Live-CD in your computer, and you have a working environment up and running in less than 5 minutes with tons of desktop applications that can even make their Windows counterparts look rough. That’s a lot of progress. I still remember the faces of my Windows using co-workers at the hospital when I showed them how Knoppix could help them recover data from a virus-possesed non-starting Windows without much hazzle. It was like they’d seen an oasis after having walked through Death Valley without water.

A bunch of Ubuntu CDsA bunch of Ubuntu CDs

There’s been a buzz about GNU/Linux for a long time now. It’s been expected to change the landscape of the IT world, and people (particularly people like me) have been expecting that moment to come any day now. But after thinking it over, I can tell you that I actually don’t want that moment to come at all. That’s right, I don’t. About now I can almost hear you thinking: “What’s this (so called pro-Linux) wacko going on about?”, “What... does he always want to be on the losing side?”, or even worse, you might be thinking: “Maybe he’s working for Microsoft”. Ugh! That last one hurt.

It’s okay... I understand if you’re thinking things like that at this point. Please, let me explain myself a little better.

There are distributions now that are so simple to use that all you have to do is put a Live-CD in your computer and you have a working environment up and running in less than 5 minutes

What do you know about Egypt? I know it’s a country located in North Africa, it’s hot like hell, and it’s a place which attracts thousands of tourists each year who go to see the remains of what was once a great empire.

How about Rome? It’s not a country in North Africa this time but a city in Italy. However, it’s still very similar to Egypt: it’s a place which attracts thousands of tourists each year who go to see the remains of what was once a great empire.

The Coliseum of RomeThe Coliseum of Rome

Now think about IBM? It’s not a country or a city and okay it doesn’t attract tourists. But, it is still similar to Egypt and Rome... I think you can tell what I’m getting at now, can’t you?

How many times have you seen someone or something become “The Ultimate Hit”, only to be fade into obscurity? Think about it:

  • The New Kids on the Block
  • The Spice Girls
  • Napster
  • IBM
  • Even Netscape
  • .Net and every product delivered by Microsoft. (Okay I’m being a little hopeful with this one, I admit it.)

How many times have you seen someone or something become “The Ultimate Hit”, only to be fade into obscurity?

Some of them are not exactly in ashes. A couple of examples seem to be coming back from the underworld to scare the life out of their undertakers, so to speak. Others have just changed and are still present though not in the same “package”, like Napster. But it seems to be a law of nature: once you get to the top... there’s nowhere else to go but down. It all makes perfect sense.

Now it seems to be the time for free software to be “The Ultimate Hit”—time for it to be carried to the top by the momentum of GNU/Linux. Everybody is willing to make cheerful statements about FOSS. Some people have even envisioned a Microsoft-maintained Linux kernel and distribution or that Microsoft will one day release all of its source code under the GPL and place it on SourceForge (I personally believe those “visions” are unlikely). Seriously now, I’m concerned that it’ll become just another in the long list of sad examples of “Ultimate Hits”—that it’ll get to the top only to nose-dive into obscurity, to be spoken of only in history books. The thought of it almost brings a tear to my eye.

I’ve been in love with GNU/Linux since I started working with it over four years ago, and I most certainly do not want to see it become another fallen empire. Perhaps it’d be better for it to remain ever the “Next Big Hit” in the IT World. I wouldn’t mind that at all. Would you?

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Comments

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Good article and I see your point. I assume you mean "The year of Desktop Linux" which is what I heard so much about last year (and the year before and the one before etc.).

However the major difference between the examples that you give (Egypt/Rome/IBM) and GNU/Linux or free software is that your examples were all run by a central control of some sort (empires, businesses etc.) . Also they existed with a view to expanding themselves. GNU/Linux and the Free software used on it - by nature - tends to be community led and tends to exist to meet the needs of it's own community and the surrounding ones. It grows not by force (either armed or commercial) but by service to the same communities. It has no central ego to satisfy. The features that turn up usually are developed to meet user (often developer/user) needs and not sales targets/growth plans.

So while there may be individual companines whose business depends more on the growth of GNU/Linux, they exist within a larger community which will continue even if they do not.

It's intersting that these predictions of world domination are regularly made by those outside the user community. They tend (IME) to be made by journalists who are interested in selling copy and by "analysts" who earn their living saying such things.

Do I think Free software (not necessarily GNU/Linux but it does seem the likliest candidate) will have it's day? - Yes I do but I think it will kind of sneak up on us instead of it being some recognisable year of growth. One day we'll be writing articles that try to pinpoint exactly when it was that we all started to use Free software instead of proprietary lock-ins.

Cheers
Ryan

lutnom's picture
Submitted by lutnom on

What do you know about life? How long did that last again? When will DNA stop from being copied?

OK, Linux may not be there to stay, but parts and variations thereof have a good chance to survive a lot longer.

Terry Hancock's picture

Free licenses are to software development what sex was to evolution.

They greatly increase the rate of innovation, because they permit constant and promiscuous recombinant experimentation. The Cambrian Explosion on Earth came shortly after microbes began to be able to exchange DNA and thus freely share their innovations with their neighbors.

The truth is that Linux will die. FreeBSD will die. Even the Posix standard will die. But they will have progeny that will live on.

Proprietary programs are inherently sterile, like a neutered cat. When they die, you just have to buy or adopt a new one. They may be good at catching mice, but they won't teach their children how to, because they're not going to have any children.

This is one of many ways in which you can see that the free software world is one of organic, constantly evolving change, as opposed to the artificial "engineered" world of proprietary software. If you want a quick, efficient way to get a particular job done, and you can afford to throw a lot of money at the problem, the engineered solution is likely the best. But in the long run, it loses, because it's brittle and unchangeable. It can't adapt.

Author information

Edmundo Carmona's picture

Biography

Edmundo is a Venezuelan Computer Engineer. He is working as a Freelance Java Developer in Colombia since very recently. He has also been a GNU/Linux user and consultant for several years.

After years of being retired from music, he's working right now to regain his classical flute skills.