Birthdays and anniversaries are a natural time for reflection on what has been and what is yet to come. When they mark major milestones such as 20 years, however, there’s a considerable temptation to think bigger.
So it’s been in the Linux blogosphere, where our favorite operating system officially turns 20 today. Happy Birthday, Linux!
The celebrations began months ago, of course, thanks to the Linux Foundation’s jubilant efforts, which culminated last week at the LinuxCon show. Now that the actual day is upon us, however, that 20-year anniversary is dominating the thoughts and conversations of bloggers far and wide.
‘And They Said It Wouldn’t Last’
“Linux turns 20, the future is bright,” read one headline on ZDNet UK, for example.
“Linux Turns 20 (And They Said it Wouldn’t Last)” read another.
“After 20 Years, Linux Looks Better Than Ever,” read the one at PCWorld.
It’s been like Mardi Gras in the Linux blogosphere’s main downtown, meanwhile, where banks were closed and fans gathered on Thursday to celebrate the momentous day.
Braving the din, the confetti and the deafening band, Linux Girl took the opportunity to gather some wishes for the operating system’s next 20 years.
‘Linux Is a Success’
“On its 20th year, Linux is a success,” Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, told Linux Girl.
“It is the dominant server operating system and is threatening to be the dominant mobile operating system,” Lim explained. “It is struggling on the desktop, but even there has achieved a relative success, not in the number of desktops it is installed on but in that it has acted as a deterrent as against Microsoft Windows and Office.”
In fact, “Linux has kept Microsoft prices down in my neck of the woods,” said Philippines-based Lim.
‘One Desktop Linux’
For the future, though, “there are too many distributions, too many package management systems and no common application programming interface,” Lim opined. “How many is too many? Anything over one.”
If the Linux desktop is to gain ground, “there has to evolve a single dominant Linux distribution with a single default user interface,” he asserted. “In other words, Linux users would have to agree to give up some freedom and rally around one banner. There is no need to build a better Linux — there is a need to build a ‘one desktop Linux.'”
Indeed, along similar lines, “in 20 years, I hope everyone will finally agree on what sound and video libraries we need to have installed,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack offered.
‘The Critical Parts Just Keep Working’
“‘Gee, where did all the time go?’ is my first thought,” began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.
“Things have certainly improved in the last 20 years,” she added. “No more 15-disk floppy installs. No more fooling with mode lines to get X to work. No picking just the right network card. No winmodems.”
On the other hand, “one update broke my wireless, another broke compositing, a third broke flash on firefox (firefox’s fault — it still works on chrome), and I still have to boot into Windows for the odd print/scan job, even though it said ‘Linux’ on the box,” Hudson pointed out. “I guess, because of the pace of change, some things just never change.”
Nevertheless, “despite all this, Linux is still the main OS on my laptop, and the only OS on my desktop, because the critical parts just keep working no matter what,” Hudson said. “These problems will work themselves out as time goes on — certainly before another 20 years have passed!”
‘Will the FUD Ever Stop?’
In the next 20 years, what Hudson would really like to see is “less FUD around Linux,” she told Linux Girl.
“When it gets to the point that even the Free Software Foundation posts a story recommending that ‘companies that sell products that use Android can help out by encouraging the developers of Linux to make the switch to GPLv3,’ you have to wonder,” Hudson said.
“Will the FUD ever stop?” she mused. “Human nature being what it is, it just may take another 20 years. I guess I can wait.”
‘Bridging the Digital Divide’
Blogger Robert Pogson’s only regret is that “I have only 11 years of GNU/Linux under my belt,” he told Linux Girl. “I missed at least five years of good times. I stuck with my old 486DX and Lose 3.1 for a lot of years.”
Many PCs, in fact, “remain functional for a decade but are scrapped because of Wintel’s greed,” Pogson noted. “I expect in the next decade the Wintel treadmill will grind to a halt, with GNU/Linux showing up to keep PCs going by the hundreds of millions as thin clients or thick clients for as long as they run.
“ARM will invade the traditional x86 spaces and GNU/Linux and Android/Linux will be there for the next decade bridging the digital divide, making IT really green and working for everyone, not just the monopolies,” he predicted.
‘How Did That Happen?’
Slashdot blogger and Windows fan hairyfeet had just one wish for Linux in the next 20 years.
“Can Linus retire, pretty please?” he said. “Because mark my words, it won’t even be six months after he is gone when Linux will FINALLY have an ABI, and then, surprise! It might actually gain some real share.”
Linux is “really a bunch of guys in a bunch of basements scratching an itch,” hairyfeet explained. “Nobody really cares about things like usability or the common man. If I had a single wish for Linux, it would be that a Gates or Jobs would come along and just take it away from the hackers and trolls and give us a true third way where the user was No. 1 and everything was so simple and intuitive both Apple and MSFT were left thinking, ‘How did that happen?'”
‘A Force to Be Reckoned With’
Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, took a higher-level view.
“Linux has shown that classical distributist economic concepts work,” Travers told Linux Girl.
“The idea that self-employed programmers and consultants have access to and can own (in the sense of being able to use for any purpose) their own means of production is probably the most important feature of Linux, along with the widespread cultivation of community (something HURD was never able to accomplish),” Travers explained. “As G. K. Chesterton once said, ‘Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few.'”
Linux, in fact, “is the most public engine which not only shows that to be true but shows that distributive ownership, and collaborative development by hundreds of businesses of all sizes, collaborating as equals, is a force to be reckoned with,” Travers added.
‘Linux Will Flourish’
As for the next 20 years, “I hope that we will see the continued development of huge networks of programmers and that Linux will continue to bring the best and brightest into careers as open source software developers, whether in the Linux kernel or elsewhere,” Travers said.
“If this happens, then software which demands that one company own and control it (whether that’s Oracle or Microsoft, and regardless of the license) will be unable to compete with these networks of smaller businesses,” he noted. “Linux and other free/open source OSes will flourish, and the old proprietary model will eventually begin to show itself to be unsustainable in most markets.”