Gadgetopia has an entry linking to an article at eweek about what the year 2004 will bring for Linux. The article is very positive, which of course makes me happy. Every year since 2000 I’ve heard from one sector or another that Linux is going to just “blow up” during the upcoming year. While it has gained market acceptance over time, it’s gone through the more gradual adoption process that most technologies do. Many technological advances do take a number of years to really succeed, cell phones being the example that I’ve heard referenced most recently. Linux has put in its time as a technological advance. I’ve been using it for over 10 years, and I wasn’t even the first in my college dorm to pick up the project.
But to look at Linux as just a technological advance misses many of the deeper changes which it represents. In my opinion Linux does provide a great operating system. In a very short time it has grown from a small personal project into a robust system capable of running an excellent selection of desktop and server software. I haven’t even owned a Windows system for the last 4 years, I’m 100% Linux. So I do rate myself a pretty big fan. I’ve been agitating for more Linux use since my first “real job”, and the reactions frequently have very little to do with the technology, or even the price. The issues that frequently come back from business people have to do with the logistics of running Linux systems. Support contracts, accountability, the available tallent pool, certifications, and stuff like that. Linux doesn’t represent just a new technology, like say switching from one ERP system to another. It represents a whole new form of carrying out IT capability. Trying to deploy Linux without understanding the way that the system as a whole works will lead to a failed implementation. Just like trying to automate an inefficient assembly line process by just throwing technology at what’s already being done is just going to lead you to automated inefficiency. Thowing Linux at a floundering IT department will just lead to an IT department flailing with open souce tools. Linux is poised to make that IT explosion. But in my opinion open source developers at times don’t really understand open source. If I had a dollar for every developer who released code for free and then whined when some big corporation picked it up cause they think they should “get compensated for their work” I would probably be able to take a year vacation.
The people who have been “doing open source” frequently don’t have the business background to make the strong case to a CEO or CIO. It has taken time for the knowledge about why this system works to make it to the people who can then carry it up the chain of command (this indicates a serious problem with corporations in general by the way, but we’ll leave that issue alone for now). I think even the business people have known for a long time that Linux is a better operating system than Windows, and that the new tallent available overseas and coming out of colleges has more hands on experience with open source than they do with Microsoft. The issue has been being able to qualify and quantify risks and insure smooth operations. Maybe the cold hard facts of how well Linux has worked will finally overcome the inflated numbers that Microsoft pays leagues of salesmen to flood every potential customer with. But I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.
Linux companies seem to be taking the correct paths. Redhat moving to concentrate it’s resources on corporate customers is a move I actually applaud. I’ll miss the Redhat Network updates for my desktop (yes, I was a paying customer, with more than one system subscribed). But trimming their operations down so that they can provide the full range of bundled services which the corporate customer needs makes far more sense than just running a software update service which reaches more people. IBM has done a lot to help as well. Maybe the horrible performance of Microsoft in dealing with security issues will be enough to finally chip away the facade of “accountability” which people seem to also site when they give reasons for using Microsoft. All these issues did exist in the past however, and still Linux has been growing slowly. I do hope that it takes off during 2004, and I’ll be doing my best to help ensure that it does.
Linux SHOULD explode in 2004. But Linux also should have exploded in 2000, 2001, 2002, and this year. The limiting factor is businesses who can’t take advantage because they can’t fit Linux within the framework of what they know how to quantify and talk about. Linux is a disruptive technology, one that’s so disruptive that even the people who work with and on it frequently don’t fully understand why the things that they’re doing have worked out. But that doesn’t change the fact that open source provides the best software, and makes the most sense long term. If the explosion does happen during this upcoming year I don’t think anyone can predict how it will turn out. When it does happen I expect the impact will be so drastic and far reaching that the information technology industry will no longer be recognizable when compared to what it looks like today. I can hardly wait.