The Not-So-Secret of Linux Success

20 years on, and still rocking the IT world

Okay, the truth will out: I'm not going to LinuxCon this year.

It's not that I'm on the outs with my former employer, the Linux Foundation. We have a perfectly copasetic relationship after my departure from the non-profit group back in 2010, and they sent me a very nice invitation a while back to come out to Vancouver for the event this week.

Nor do I have issues with the location in Canada. I know, it seems like these days many Americans do, but I groove on our neighbors to the north. Well, except for Sean Michael Kerner, who can be a bit cranky.

The truth is, this is the week my oldest child is moving to college for the first time, and frankly, even the 20th anniversary celebration of Linux wasn't enough to get me to miss that major event.

This year's LinuxCon, which is organized by a staff that works organizational magic to make things happen, has a lot to see and do, and firmly establishes LinuxCon as the flagship conference for the Linux operating system. If you are like me, and can't hit the show in person, you can register and tune into the keynote events for the conference via free live video streaming starting today at 9 a.m. PDT (1600 UTC).

20 years of Linux is going to be the big theme this year, naturally, and why shouldn't it? To look back 20 years and see the successes of Linux is a pretty nice feeling. If you want to get a clear picture, look no further than this nifty infographic, provided by the Linux Foundation:

Linux Then and Now

Linux is strong in the server and embedded spaces, crushing in the virtualization sector, and dominant in the mobile market. It is a multi-billion dollar industry now--not bad for what was once routinely described as a "hobbyist's" operating system.

No one, really, could have predicted that Linux would come this far when it came into the world in 1991. But maybe we should have figured it out when we read all the stories about Linux getting ported onto watches and PDAs and chuckled at the oddness of such projects. But as quirky as these tales seemed, they were the precursors for porting Linux onto new processors, new devices, and new virtual machines. We should have known.

For me, the tipping point was the One Laptop Per Child project, started in 2006. The "$100 laptop" hasn't reached its full potential, but the truth was plain as day: free software like Linux can be adapted to any need, any device.

And that's the real power behind Linux. It's not technically superior in every way--there are operating systems out there that can do a better job in some areas. It doesn't have all the best apps; there are some better apps on other platforms.

But what Linux does have is flexibility. It can be shaped and molded into whatever developers need. In that sense, it is like clay. When someone starts out making art with clay, they may create a lop-sided vase or odd-looking paperweight. But with time, with practice, clay can be used to create works of art.

So, on the occasion of LinuxCon, here's to the kernel that will drive our technology further into the 21st Century and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the adage, "information wants to be free."

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