So I've heard a lot about this Linux phenomenon. What is it anyways?
Linux is the world’s most rapidly growing operating system. Its growth is occurring in homes and offices in the U.S. and around the world. Linux runs on many different kinds of computers, but most people use it on the IBM-compatible PCs we are all familiar with. These are PCs one can buy at your local computer and electronics stores from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, IBM, Dell and others. In many ways Linux is similar to other popular operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and MacOS X.
How big is the market for Linux?
There are two areas to consider here. The first is the people who use Linux on a desktop computer for everyday work at their home and offices. This is the focus for TUX. The second is for corporations that use Linux as a server platform in corporate settings. Regarding desktop Linux, the best estimates put the number of Linux users at around 11-15 million, or about 5% of the market. This number is expected to rise to nearly 28 million by 2006, at which point Linux will have a larger installed base than MacOS and a marketshare of around 7%. Currently, sales of paid Linux packages are outpacing those of MacOS, as well. In addition, sales figures for Linux tend to chronically undercount the actual number of users due to the fact that Linux is readily available in many situations free-of-charge. Meanwhile, the corporate sphere is where Linux has been making the most headlines due to its meteoric growth there. Not only are 30% of all corporate servers now running Linux today, but unit sales of servers have been growing nearly 50% per year. A similar growth rate is forecast for the next 5 years.
Who makes Linux?
Although Linux’s functionality is similar to that of other operating systems, it is not produced by a single company. Instead, the development is organized by a decentralized but highly organized group of individuals throughout the world who contribute according to their expertise. Some people are volunteers, others are paid by large and small companies who want to support Linux. The leader of this vast effort is Linux’s founder, Linus Torvalds. Torvalds started Linux in 1991 when he was a university student in Finland. From the beginning he sought to make Linux a community effort, and to this day it remains so.
Can something from a bunch of volunteers be any good?
Yes, many people make lots of money with Linux, and the market is booming. Here is how it works. Linus Torvalds and his associates essentially make the core, or kernel, of Linux freely available and at no charge. Then other companies take the Linux kernel and adapt it to their needs or offer services related to Linux. Here are some examples:
- Linux software: Some companies create what is called a Linux distribution. They essentially put Linux onto a CD-ROM or DVD, then add manuals, an attractive interface, administration tools and other elements and sell the whole package at a profit.
- Linux hardware: Companies sell computers—such as desktops, laptops and servers with Linux already installed. Others sell peripherals that run on Linux computers, such as scanners, printers, monitors, routers, etc.
- Services: Companies servicing corporate customers sell maintenance contracts for their Linux-related software and hardware.
- Books, manuals, and training
That sounds great, but does anybody make any money?
Yes. In fact, many argue that Linux’s model is a better way to make an operating system vs. one company running the show. Linux’s is so strong for two reasons. First, because so many talented people are working on Linux, it is a better way to make an operating system. Second, Linux is what’s called open source, whereby the source code (i.e. the guts of the program) are made available to anyone. This aspect allows the vast cooperation mentioned above to occur. Furthermore, open source allows people to customize Linux according to their needs in a legal way. Interestingly these customizations are shared with others, which results in a sort of compounded development out in the field (and not just at the head office) that doesn’t occur with other operating systems.
The way Linux is produced is interesting. Does it have a large grassroots following?
Yes it does. Because Linux is produced by volunteers and so many people work on it, there is a lot of genuine enthusiasm for Linux and a sense of community. This enthusiasm is expressed in many ways. For example, Linux supporters tend to work hard to spread ideas about Linux, as well as to offer support to new users. Furthermore, many people create programs that run on Linux and share them with others at no cost. On the corporate side, a spirit of cooperation is infused in companies that have any relation to Linux. Because they are aware of the advantages they receive from volunteers, they are quick to share their own innovations with the goal of supporting others and improving Linux for the benefit of everyone.
The most popular operating systems do have some annoyances, but they work for most people. Why should anyone switch?
In many ways, Linux is better than other operating systems because its underlying technology is more robust. With Linux, issues such as spyware, viruses and system crashes are almost non-existent. Furthermore, Linux lets users have significantly more control over their system, which is a big advantage for many people.
This sounds wonderful, but isn’t Linux mainly for hardcore computer users?
No, that’s not true anymore. At one time, Linux was really just for companies, but over the past several years, many people have been working very hard to make Linux user-friendly. Linux is developing at a very rapid pace, and it has all of the same things you would expect from a modern operating system, such as an attractive graphical user interface, excellent office suite, Internet browser, chat clients, email programs, graphics programs— you name it. Furthermore, now there is TUX, the First and Only Magazine for New Linux Users, which will help new users to make sense of Linux.