The Future of Linux
14 July 1998
Phil Hughes Questions
How much bigger will the Linux market be in 2000?
- Jeremy Allison said 20% to 25% of shipping Intel systems.
- Linus Torvalds said that he's always been bad at predicting
things and basically weaseled out of answering the question...
- Sunil Saxena also declined to speculate.
- Larry Augustin said that Linux would be the #1 Unix by
2000, and something else that I missed.
- Robert Hart mentioned the Datapro report that
showed only two OSes increased their corporate market share in 1997;
Linux was one of them.
He said the doubling time was 12 months, which would imply between 20
million and 40 million Linux users; ``I'll be surprised if we don't
go beyond that.''
World domination: how much longer?
[reference to Linus's rather famous stated goal in his
.sig or .plan or something]
- Linus Torvalds: ``That used to be a joke... [much
laughter] ...and it's becoming less and less so.'' He said his ego
hopes it will happen in 5 to 10 years; but realistically he hopes that,
in 5 to 10 years, no one dominates the industry.
What is Samba's role in Linux's acceptance?
- Jeremy Allison first asked for a show of hands; it appeared that
roughly 40% of the audience used Samba. Then he gave the short answer to
the question: Samba ``essentially allows people to remove NT servers.''
He noted that SGI is officially adopting Samba [recall that they, like
HP, are now selling NT systems as the low end of their product line]
and that ``some crazy folks are running it straight off of [CDs??] with
200 users'' (mostly universities who ``do not want NT''). By the
end of the year he hopes that Samba will be able to completely replace
all primary NT Server functions.
Corel's Network Computer is running Linux, as is Cobalt's MicroServer (a
7-inch cube)--these are basically Linux appliances.
[not sure what the question was, exactly...]
- Larry Augustin commented that other companies are taking notice
and saying, ``Hey, we could do that, too.''
Open Source is obviously just another fad...isn't it?
- Larry Augustin was the first to disagree; he said that Open
Source is here to stay--for example, it allows a company like Netscape
to compete on its own terms against Microsoft, not on Microsoft's terms.
It also supports a Darwinian model: if one vendor's support is lacking,
you've got the source and can take your money (and business) elsewhere.
That's not possible with the closed-source model epitomized by Microsoft.
- Robert Hart expanded on that point: it's all about
control. If you need a new feature or bug fix or other
customization, you can simply hire someone to do it for you. ``You don't
need anyone's permission; just do it!'' I believe he related an example
of a company with a large application that was in dire need of a bugfix;
they were willing to spend essentially any amount of money or manpower to
get the thing working, but their vendor was unresponsive and they had no
- Jeremy Allison claimed that he was fundamentally ``a lazy
programmer'' and that the Open Source model is a way of letting the
users do the work. [more laughter] He mentioned that some
incredible Samba patches occasionally turn up in his e-mail--often
oddball customizations that are only useful to a few people, but to them
they're extremely useful. ``Imagine asking Microsoft to do a custom NT
Server for your site.''
What will be the long-term effects on Linux of Microsoft's recent win
against Netscape (i.e., bundling MSIE in Win98)?
- Linus Torvalds dismissed the Department of Justice and the US
legal system as important factors in Linux's future; ``the only thing
that will matter is the market.'' In fact, he claimed that it's an
advantage since there are lots of companies who find it hard to compete
when Microsoft sees what they're doing and simply incorporates similar
technology directly into the OS. In the Linux arena they can find a
niche and compete (echoing Larry's comments above), as Corel has, for
example. ``That's one reason why, in the end, a monopoly just doesn't
work. [pause] Maybe that's just me...''
What do we need to do to get apps (such as from Adobe and Quark, which are
the only non-Linux apps used by Linux Journal) ported to Linux?
- Robert Hart said that there are just two things: let them know
you want Linux ports, and show them that there's profit to be made.
- Larry Augustin related an article seen on
Slashdot earlier in the day about Informix's unannounced Linux port
and said the key is to tell vendors, ``If you port it to Linux, we will
buy it.'' [Three days later, Slashdot and
InfoWorld Electric report a sudden reversal of plans at Oracle:
they will be porting Oracle 8 to Linux after all. In fact, they
say that they've had it running internally for a while already. See also
InfoWorld Electric's article on Informix's official Linux announcement, expected next week.]
With regard to the Linux Standard Base (a standard for base-level
compatibility across Linux distributions), Red Hat and Debian's standard
package formats, Red Hat's early adoption of glibc vs. everyone else, etc.:
are we doing this right? Are there too many Linux ``standards''?
- Robert Hart had three points in response. First, there's a lot
of discussion between the various distribution makers, precisely for the
purpose of avoiding fragmentation. Second, there's a danger of
stultifying and crushing the rapid pace of development and the incredible
customization choices available to users if there's too much rigidity
and standardization. Third, to the other distributions: ``Please get
with it--glibc is the only actively maintained C library.''
- Larry Augustin countered that he's seen a lot of users who, when
they upgraded to Red Hat 5.x, found that ``everything broke.''
[Thanks to Jason Riedy for the reminder that just installing the older
libc 5.4.x somewhere in the library path isn't sufficient; most shared
libraries used by older apps need to be duplicated, as was the case in
the changeover from a.out to ELF binaries a couple of years
ago.] ``You're in the big time now. Some things (like
Informix) users can't simply recompile--try to make things easier for
people and remain compatible.''
What if Microsoft plays the Linux game? For example, Open Windows 99 or
Internet Explorer for Linux?
- Linus Torvalds first noted that he's working at a company
[Transmeta] whose product won't be available on the Internet. He
went on to say that he has a lot of respect for Microsoft's PR machine,
and ``let's hope they do.''
- Jeremy Allison apparently interpreted ``Open Windows 99'' as a
hypothetical Microsoft release based on Linux and said that he would
welcome MS Linux--the GNU General Public License (GPL) limits abuse.
``If they change it, we'd get the source code,'' to which Linus muttered,
``We could fix it, too.'' [much applause and laughter]
NASA, NIST, the US Postal Service, (IRS?)--is the US Government the first
step toward world domination?
- Linus Torvalds: ``I hadn't really thought of that, but
now that you've planted the idea...'' [more chuckles]
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Copyright © 1998 Greg Roelofs.