It's doubtful that Linux could even exist in its present form were it not for the Internet. Torvalds has played a pivotal role throughout its storied life and still personally coordinates each new kernel release -- for example, it was he who dubbed a recent stable kernel Linux 3.0, despite its having "no landmark features or incompatibilities." He's hardly alone; as one of the world's most successful open source projects, Linux represents the contributions of countless programmers worldwide. Anyone who chooses may download it, inspect it, learn from it, modify it, or use it, free of charge and with no obligation other than to allow others to do the same -- all thanks to the Internet.
Some contributors have been individuals, and many have hailed from educational institutions -- at least at the beginning. In recent years, however, the game has changed. Commercial interests are now the most prominent actors in the Linux development process. Of the top 20 contributors to the Linux 3.0 kernel, more than half were acting on behalf of their employers.
Other contributors represented prominent commercial Linux vendors, such as Canonical, Red Hat, and Suse. But arguably the most noteworthy contributors were those who represented hardware manufacturers, including Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and RealTek, among others. Where once component and chip set manufacturers were reluctant to assist open source developers for fear of disclosing trade secrets, today a whole range of vendors are actively contributing driver code to the Linux kernel. That's a clear testament to the project's reach and its growing importance to the overall IT industry.
Linux is everywhere
The relationship between Linux and the Internet has been mutually beneficial. Just as Linux development has benefited from the rise of the Internet, so too has the Internet prospered from Linux's evolution. Today, the open source OS is everywhere. It powers Web servers, email servers, file servers, databases, and more. In fact, according to Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin, you use Linux "literally every time you surf the Internet."
For example, search engines have become the de facto home pages for most Web users. Google leads the pack with 66 percent market share, and Google's servers all run on Linux. So do most of Yahoo's, according to the Netcraft site survey. Even Microsoft Bing uses the Akamai content delivery network, which also runs on Linux. It's likely that none of these companies or their services would even exist if it weren't for the massive scalability provided by low-cost Linux servers.
Gauging Linux's share of the overall OS market, however, is an inexact science. Only public servers can be empirically measured; anything behind a firewall is a black box. Most analysts rely on sales figures from vendors and retailers. But this method ignores the many popular Linux flavors -- including CentOS, Debian, Fedora, and Ubuntu, among others -- that can be downloaded and installed for free. There is no accurate way to measure how many servers are deployed using these distros, yet informal download stats alone suggest that Linux enjoys a far greater share of the server OS market than is reflected in the commercial Linux vendors' sales figures. Given the trend toward cloud computing, its role in everyday computing is only likely to grow.