For instance, before Linux came along, BSD systems were all the rage for small ISPs in the early days of the Internet. BSDi was a favorite, tagged as "the Internet super server," and came outfitted with a number of tools specifically focused on ISP functionality. BSD had a long, established history with an essentially unmatched heritage, as well as very attractive licensing. At that point in time, Linux was barely at version 1.1; I think it's clear that had Linux failed to thrive, FreeBSD would fill that vacuum today.
This alternate history so far occurs prior to the release of Windows 95 and Windows NT, watershed moments in computing. Linux didn't have much of an impact on either product or their successors for a few years. When Linux suddenly emerged as a major threat to Windows, that threat was initially ignored by Redmond.
Had FreeBSD soaked up the spotlight -- and the massive amount of volunteer labor that fueled Linux -- it's quite possible that FreeBSD would have risen to interfere with Microsoft's desktop and server operating system, thus sending Redmond down a different path. After all, Linux was "easy" to dismiss as a college project started by a kid a few short years ago, whereas FreeBSD's lineage was extremely well known and trusted.
If FreeBSD had gained as much momentum and adoption as Linux enjoyed in the mid-1990s, we may have seen major strategic changes from Microsoft much earlier than we did. Who's to say where that might have led? However, I'm fairly certain FreeBSD would have been far and away the most advanced operating system of the day, if Linux had not been eating such a large portion of its cake.
What happens after that might have followed the same basic track. Instead of Apache running all those websites on all those Linux boxes, it would be running on FreeBSD. The tech boom and bust would have happened in much the same way, and highly computerized consumer devices would be littering our lives as they do now. After all, Mac OS X is derived from BSD, as is iOS. It's just as easy to squeeze FreeBSD into a set-top box as it is Linux.
If the world hadn't contributed to building Linux from scratch in the 1990s, FreeBSD might be more advanced than any other OS is today. Plenty of wheels were reinvented during Linux's formative years, and perhaps without the need to take those steps back, FreeBSD may have taken faster steps forward.
But as I said, dabbling in alternative history is always a crapshoot, and a world without Linux could be much the same. All things considered, I expect it's best that it turned out as it has. More choice is generally good, and it's evident that Linux and FreeBSD have taken significantly divergent paths to achieve the same goals. I'll gladly use them both.
This story, "A world without Linux: Where would Apache, Microsoft -- even Apple be today?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.