Today marks the 25th birthday of Linux, the free operating system which now sits at the core of our modern world.
On this day, 25 years ago, Linus Torvalds started what would become one of the most prominent examples of free and open-source collaboration – and it all started with a simple message on the comp.os.minx message board.
“ “I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things),” Torvald wrote.
Since then Linux has grown into the open source beast that it is today, with everything from companies and supercomputers to mobile phones relying on the OS.
In celebration of the 25 year milestone, CBR talked to a company known for pioneering the original open source model – Red Hat. Sitting down with Ellie Burns, Martin Percival, Senior Solutions Architect at Red Hat, talked about past, current and future innovations being driven by Linux and open source technology.
EB: It is the 25th birthday of Linux – or is it? There is some confusion over whether it is Aug 25th or Oct 5th, when the first public release was made. So are you celebrating today?
MP: August 25th 1991 was the day that Linux was first announced to the public which is why Red Hat is celebrating it today. Of course people do argue over this date, as the first kernel (0.1) was released in September 1991 and Linus Torvalds started working on Linux way before August 25th – however, I prefer to stick to the day the world found out it existed.
EB: What do you think has been the biggest mile-stone or breakthrough in Linux’s 25 year history?
MP: The creation of Linux itself was almost the biggest breakthrough. The fact that we could work together on an operating system that was available for the whole world to use was a radical idea. Linux offered a solid platform that people could not only rely on, but could also modify for their own needs. Since then Linux has enabled many technology innovations. Over the years, Linux has continued to evolve, keeping up with hardware developments and new thinking in the way that we use software. This has kept it at the forefront of usable, useful operating systems.
Since its launch, a huge milestone for Linux was the rise of professional open source and the resulting acceptance and implementation of Linux in the enterprise. Organisations such as Red Hat made this possible by adapting Linux to make it work smoothly and securely for the enterprise and its needs. The implementation of virtualisation and container support in Linux and its use in most major cloud solutions are significant innovations that have radically changed how businesses can approach their computing problems.
EB: How has Linux changed the world since its inception in 1991?
MP: Linux has become a powerful driver in the ways in which we conduct our daily lives. Almost every item around us that uses technology from phones, to supercomputers to TVs and much more is running on Linux. Often we do not even notice it, for example, when you walk in central London, black cabs with advertising screens are at every corner. These screens are running on Linux but I am sure most people wouldn’t know that. Linux is everywhere, even in the most unexpected and benign objects. There are all sorts of unusual uses for Linux, in fact, smart fridges (with screens showing information such as temperature or the current time), play stations, IoT devices and systems as well as traffic control systems are all examples of common objects enabled by Linux.
Linux has enabled technology to be weaved into the world around us as more devices and objects are increasingly using complex technology. It has helped change the world into an environment where everything and everyone is connected together through technology and which is highly influenced by social media. Linux has been at the centre of all these changes in people’s lives for the last 25 years..
It has not only changed society, but also the enterprise and IT. Linux long ago reached the tipping point of being accepted in the enterprise datacenter. The work carried out by Red Hat and its business model has largely made this possible and accelerated this process, by giving organisations the kind of quality and support assurance for Linux that they would demand for any other product.
EB: What do you think is the biggest innovation that Linux made possible?
MP: It has to be “the cloud”. Before Linux, enterprises relied on hardware from Unix vendors such as SGI or HP to be able to run their own computing power. This bundling of hardware and operating system was very expensive, as every manufacturer locked the two together in its own unique and very profitable way. In these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how the current cloud computing landscape could have ever started. The sheer cost of filling a cloud datacentre would have been prohibitive.
The beauty of Linux was that it grew initially on commodity hardware, bringing ever increasing processor power to the user without the lock-in of the proprietary model. This, in turn, has given organisations the ability to install more machines at a much lower cost, making it easier to imagine, and finally realise, the world of cloud computing today; where countless servers, all running Linux, provide the computing backbone for our lives.
Now we see Linux being used, not only as an operating system in its own right, but also as the foundation for private cloud offerings like OpenStack and container runtimes like Red Hat’s Openshift Container Platform.
EB: What does the future hold for Linux?
MP: The future for Linux is probably tied up with our lifestyle. Today our lives are closely linked and influenced by social media and everything is accessible publicly. This is thanks to the Internet and the information we can easily share – and this sharing is made possible, in many cases, by Linux operating systems.
The open source community picks up new ways of thinking very quickly and is efficient at driving software change to match that thinking. Invariably, as contributors write this code, Linux also evolves as an operating system, handling new hardware and ways of working that never existed 25 years ago.
In many ways, Linux is the ultimate adaptable creature, always matching functionality to requirements. It has enabled drastic IT innovations already and many more hardware advances will be happening, especially with the rise of IoT and cloud computing. More IT challenges will no doubt appear within the business world and the community will constantly have to adapt to these changes and challenges in order to make IT simpler, safer and better adapted to people’s and business’ needs.
EB: What do you think Linux will look like in 25 years’ time, at the grand old age of 50?
MP: In 25 years, Linux has helped us accomplish many innovations that no one would have even thought of back in 1991, let alone thought possible, and in the next 25 years, we will see even greater changes as IT evolves. In the future Linux will allow us to be even more connected perhaps in different ways to the way we interact today. I am convinced Linux will be alive and well and be more embedded in our lives than ever before; perhaps parts of Linux will be running in our own bodies and there will be all sorts of artificial intelligence in play around us!
Linux remains well-poised to continue to lead IT innovation for the enterprise, but to remain leader for the next 25 years, Linux will need to focus on:
Linux will serve as the frontline in enterprise security. We will diagnose the earliest lines of codes to detect potential flaws and vulnerabilities in order to prevent any damage.Hardware advances
Linux is the standardiser for the eco-system of chipsets and hardware approaches and the community will have to continue to adapt as more innovations arise
This revolution will shake up Linux and open source in the next 25 years. Linux will drive towards scalability at an almost infinitesimal level.
The “next” next
Linux will be renowned as the platform for innovation to identify “what’s next”. Linux will constantly adapt components in the kernel and add new ones to be constantly ahead of IT innovations and the point of reference of the future of IT whatever it may be.