Linux at 20: New challenges, new opportunities

The rise of cloud computing and mobility could elevate the open source OS to a level of unprecedented dominance

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The rising value of the commercial Linux market may also lead to increased infighting among the Linux vendor community. For example, Oracle has frustrated Red Hat for several years by marketing what is essentially a carbon copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. In response, Red Hat has become more guarded about how it releases kernel code patches.

More recently, Oracle bought Ksplice, a maker of technology that allows patches to be applied to a running Linux kernel instance with zero downtime. Previously, Ksplice was available for multiple Linux distributions, including Red Hat and Ubuntu, but Oracle now says it will make the technology available for its own Linux flavor exclusively. Further actions like these could disrupt the "cooperative competition" that has characterized the commercial Linux industry to date.

Equally important, Linux's technical evolution isn't over. As successful as it has been on mobile devices so far, it could do a lot better. Linux on the ARM architecture is a morass of redundant, device-specific kernel builds and distributions, and consolidation is sorely needed.

Mobility is but one frontier for Linux to conquer. Parallel processing is another. Linux works well on today's multicore chips, but as tomorrow's chips grow to 48 cores or more, today's Linux kernel won't be able to keep up.

Between mobility and cloud computing, Linux has an unprecedented opportunity to become a dominant force the likes of which IT has never seen. But as it enters its third decade, Linux's greatest challenge may be to avoid becoming a victim of its own success. As the open source OS has matured and stabilized and its code base has grown in complexity, Linux kernel hacking is losing its allure for new developers, and recruitment may soon become a top priority if it is to overcome the hurdles ahead.

Linux's growing pains are over, but its grown-up problems have just begun. Oh, to be young again.

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This article, "Linux at 20: New challenges, new opportunities," was originally published at Follow the latest news in software development, languages and standards, open source, and Linux at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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