A Future So Bright

Winning may not be everything, but the future of Linux looks really good.

There's been a good deal of discussion about my last post about why Linux shouldn't be trying to win. That's gratifying, because discussion like that leads to a reassessment of the overall goals of Linux and other free and open source software (FOSS) projects.

At the same time, I don't want to give people the impression that I wasn't excited about what the future for Linux will hold. It's the anticipation of what lies ahead that makes me want to examine the direction Linux is going.

One of the catalysts for my excitement is a slide that was presented during an Ohio LinuxFest presentation from HP's Phil Robb: "This is the Year of the Irrelevance of the Desktop." Robb presented a slide which displayed just how far computing has come, and just how far it will go, with Linux riding the wave.

I won't call it a win for Linux, but it's a really good picture of what success can look like, for now.

The slide in question, displayed below, was actually used by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, during his address at LinuxCon this summer. I requested the slide from the LF, and they've graciously allowed me to share it. Itself based on a Morgan Stanley study, the slide from Robb's and Zemlin's respective presentations reports the number of computing units used since the 1960s.


You can see that around the 60's, mainframe units were the computing model of choice, with 1 million-plus units in use. Next, the minicomputer was the popular platform, with upwards of 10 million-plus units. Predictably, the PC came next, with 100 million-plus units deployed.

The desktop Internet platform (still on the PC, mind you, but now with cellphones increasing the device usage tenfold), runs the total number up to 1 billion-plus units.

Until we get to today, with a projected 10 billion-plus mobile consumer devices (the LF slide appears to have a typo, but the original Morgan Stanley study has 10 billion). These mobile consumer devices include:

  • Car electronics
  • Mobile video
  • Home entertainment
  • Games
  • Wireless home appliances
  • Smartphones
  • Kindle
  • Tablets
  • MP3
  • Cellphone PDS

Now, knowing what we know about Linux, do any of those devices seem... familiar to you? Let's be clear, because here's the point that Robb, Zemlin, and I are all making: virtually every one of these devices runs Linux. Moreover, Linux is the dominant operating system on these devices or is a very strong contender.

With that kind of device presence, it's clear the future of Linux as an operating system is about to grow in ways early Linux adopters could only dream of.

I keep having this idle thought when I look as charts like this. Maybe we were wrong when we said the Linux desktop was coming someday. Maybe Linux on the PC was just a chrysalis, laying the groundwork for the real purpose of the Linux operating system: delivering power and security to the hands of tens of billions, instead of the desktops of billions.

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