How Linux defines success and innovation

This blog is the "Linux of IT blogs"

You know the real mark of success these days?

When you or your product are "of" something.

Based on that incredibly important criteria, I hereby declare that Linux has reached the pinnacle of true success. Send the marketing folks home, ladies and gentlemen, we're done here, because everyone and their brother is now officially trying to the "the Linux of" whatever the sector within which they are seeking to succeed.

The latest company to hang this label on their product line is VMware, which has declared via CTO Steve Herrod that their new Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service (PaaS) will be the "Linux of the cloud."

Curiously, I have heard this label assigned to the Heroku PaaS system and to the OpenStack project as well. That's a lot of competition to try to be come the "Linux of" the same thing.

The notion that so many successful companies are vying to hold the coveted "Linux" title tells you something about just how well Linux as a specific concept of success is regarded in the IT community. To be associated with Linux tells the story of a young, scrappy operating system that has managed to dominate several sectors of technology.

Of course, it's not all adoration. Each one of the PaaS systems will still use Linux under the hood, of course, but they will be pushing their own brand far more than the Linux underneath. In that context, being the Linux of the cloud is more an attempt to supplant Linux' popularity than just attach themselves to the ever-rising Linux star.

Sort of like what Canonical does with the Ubuntu brand.

While we can all recognize a marketing-jack when we see one, it's still a bit flattering to watch Linux become the big brand that everyone is trying to emulate.

It's not just Linux in the cloud, either. Just recently, EMC decided to move their Chorus management and collaboration tool to open source, precisely because of the open source success of Linux (and Java, Hadoop, and Android). This led The Register to crown EMC has wanting to the Linux of Big Data.

It gets even more specific… in an October 2011 whitepaper, Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus referred to Hadoop as "the Linux of enterprise data warehouses."

Why that specific comparison?

"It is being adopted and forked and tweaked and optimized," in much the same way that Linux was in the early days, he said in an interview with Computerworld.

It's not just IT that has become so enamored with Linux. In January, Transparency Life Sciences launched as a drug development company specifically geared to follow in the footsteps of Linux:

"[Pharmaceutical R&D scientist Tomasz] Sablinski read an article about the open-source operating system Linux and he had an epiphany. 'I said, 'If computer coders can do open source, so can drug developers,'' he recalls. 'You have to add patients to the mix, because they're really the reason you're doing drug development.'"

This kind of thing is great, to be sure, but I have to also wonder if a lot of the attractiveness of being the "Linux of" some given thing is not only tied to the success of Linux but also to the open source and free software advantages to the operating system. That seems to be the case with the Transparency launch, for instance.

This is not to take anything away from Linux, of course, but I wanted to make sure credit was spread around to the proper aspects of what makes Linux so popular.

Being the Linux of a given sector is probably marketing hype mixed with real value, to be sure, but to be the recognized brand name that everyone wants to be when they grow up? I'd call that a nice win for Linux.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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