The OS the Internet builtThat Linux is helping usher in a new computing age might come as a surprise to some. Linux has often been accused of following, rather than leading. Since 2003, the SCO Group has alleged that the open source OS violates intellectual property relating to Unix, and it's true that much of Linux's early market share came at the expense of costly commercial Unix variants, such as AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, and Tru64. Similarly, Microsoft has repeatedly claimed that Linux violates over 200 patents.
Linux has been innovative from its inception, however, in important ways. First, while the commercial Unix flavors ran on high-end systems based on RISC processors, Torvalds designed his OS for commodity Intel hardware, anticipating the trend toward low-cost x86 servers. Second, and even more crucial, while Microsoft was famously slow to adapt to the Internet, Linux has had the Internet at its core from the very beginning.
It's doubtful that Linux could even exist in its present form were it not for the Internet. Torvalds has played a pivotal role throughout its storied life and still personally coordinates each new kernel release -- for example, it was he who dubbed a recent stable kernel Linux 3.0, despite its having "no landmark features or incompatibilities." He's hardly alone; as one of the world's most successful open source projects, Linux represents the contributions of countless programmers worldwide. Anyone who chooses may download it, inspect it, learn from it, modify it, or use it, free of charge and with no obligation other than to allow others to do the same -- all thanks to the Internet.
Some contributors have been individuals, and many have hailed from educational institutions -- at least at the beginning. In recent years, however, the game has changed. Commercial interests are now the most prominent actors in the Linux development process. Of the top 20 contributors to the Linux 3.0 kernel, more than half were acting on behalf of their employers.