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11/13/2008
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What's Next For Linux? Unifying The OS Amid Steady Change

Count on Linux continuing to expand to fill 'new ecological niches.'

BUSINESS ATTIRE
More Linux code is being contributed by development teams backed by corporate funding. In one example, a new standard file system is planned, and the main contender, BTRFS, is being developed by Oracle. It's another sign that Linux is being taken seriously by business users. There always will be room for intrepid programmers doing kernel contributions in their spare time, but the major work from here on out will be backed by corporate funding. Thanks to open source licensing, that works to everyone's benefit.

Until now, most Linux apps have come through application repositories. Packaging and delivering third-party apps outside the repositories has been difficult, in part because of the disparity of the installed base. Increasingly, however, commercial software vendors offer binary-only proprietary applications as standalone products or integrated with a Linux distribution.

One example of a standalone app is Nero Linux 3, a Linux edition of the popular Nero CD/DVD authoring suite. Nero's short-term intention is to use its brand recognition for the sake of recent Linux converts migrating from Windows. If they know something like Nero is available on Linux, even at a price, that may spur adoption. Nero doesn't intend to compete directly with open source software that covers 90% of the same functionality, but eventually to offer for-pay products that can't easily be offered as free open source software, such as patent-protected codec support.

Nevertheless, distribution through repositories continues to offer the biggest boost for third-party applications on Linux. The amount of work required for both the distributor and the user goes down, and users have more immediate access to apps that come with vendor support. For instance, Unison, a closed source unified-messaging application designed to take on Exchange, is set to be distributed through Ubuntu's repositories. Expect more of this.

RIPPLE EFFECT
Linux kernel programmer Ted Ts'o puts it this way: "Linux will continue to expand to fill new ecological niches," he says, citing burgeoning markets for netbook or Linux-based phones as examples. Developers will continue to adapt Linux for use in particular industries or devices, and Linux as a whole will benefit from what's developed for those specialties. Improvements to battery life in laptops and cell phones eventually will find their way into data centers, where they will be reflected in the form of saving power and lower cooling costs.

And Paul Cormier, executive VP of worldwide engineering with Red Hat, cites middleware and the growing virtualization market as key Linux and open source opportunities.

Photo illustrations by Sek Leung

Photo illustration by Sek Leung
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