March of the Penguins

This post is all about Linux.  How did that plucky little penguin come to be the software behind Google, Amazon and Facebook, nearly all of the top 500 supercomputers, and over 500m Android phones and tablets?  Read on...

There has been a lot of media coverage lately of a report from Goldman Sachs (and see chart below) that reports Microsoft's true market share of "consumer compute" to be just 20% in 2012.  What happened here?  Quite simply:  iPhone, iPad, Android.  All 500m+ Android devices are actually little Linux systems.  Did you know you had a Linux box in your pocket?

But consumer compute is just one part of the overall picture.  How did Linux come to be today's dominant computer operating system?  There are some pointers in this Linux Foundation video, but I would draw your attention in particular to RedHat's $1bn revenue stream based on selling services and support around Linux:

More than anything I think the success of Linux is down to its open development ethos - the idea that you are free to devise your own version of Linux, take the source code and modify it to meet your needs.  I am constantly amazed by the way that Linux has expanded to fill so much of the available space in the consumer electronics market.  Your TV, your set top box, your wireless router.  And soon your car too...  But how is it that this open development process doesn't lead to total chaos.  Two words: Benevolent Dictator.  Watch this video on how Linux is built...

I recently lectured our Computer Science freshers on key Cloud Computing concepts, as shown in the slides below.  I will make the point here that I made in my lectures - Linux is an absolutely critical part of today's connected computing environment.  It is at the heart of the major cloud service providers, and the growth of Android means that it is quite possible that your entire computing needs (front and back end) are going to be met by Linux.  Ignore it at your peril!

The full enormity of Linux in the major cloud providers' data centres is something that has to be seen to be believed.  Take a look at this video from Google showing one of their US data centres. Now pinch yourself - every single one of the servers you can see is running Linux.  By all accounts Google alone now has around 1m Linux servers running the services you use every day like search, Gmail, Docs, Maps and YouTube.

Now consider this - Windows 7 has an official end-of-life of 2020.  Will most people be running Android (and hence Linux) by this point?  I think so.

Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.