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17/01/30

The Wonder of Linux

By David Clinton

It's the operating system used by more than 95% of the world's supercomputers. Google, Netflix, and Facebook all use Linux. The vast majority of virtual machines fired up on the leading cloud computing platforms (like Amazon's AWS) are running Linux – and that includes Microsoft's Azure! There's a very good chance that the software powering your car, TV, smart phone, air traffic control system, and even neighborhood traffic lights, is one flavor or another of Linux.

If there's innovation in the worlds of science, finance, communications, entertainment, and connectivity, it's almost certainly being driven by Linux. And if there are dozens of attractive, virus-free, secure, and reliable desktop and mobile operating systems freely available to fill all kinds of roles, those too are driven by Linux.

The Linux Foundation recently estimated in September 2015 that, over just the past few years, collaborative projects under their umbrella have produced an estimated five billion dollars in economic value. This was, again according to the Foundation, "work that would take 1,356 developers more than 30 years to replicate."

But where did all this innovation, productivity, and value come from? Who actually makes it all happen? It seems that the little operating system built a couple of decades ago by Linus Torvalds and then donated to the world, is maintained by an army of thousands of developers. According to the Linux Foundation, through 2015, 7.71 changes were accepted into the Linux kernel each HOUR and those contributions were the work of, besides Torvalds himself, more than 4,000 developers scattered around the world - many of whom, it must be noted, sponsored by the companies they work for.

That's the power of open source. "Open source?" I hear you ask. "But who will support us when things go wrong?"

That's the beauty of open source. When I can't figure out how to do something or when I discover a bug in some open source software, I can usually quickly find the answer through an Internet search or, if not, there are knowledgeable and helpful folk online just waiting to help me. Try it out. You might, as I have from time to time, quickly find yourself indirect contact with the project developers themselves.

Some years ago, I wrote a white paper arguing the business case for transitioning small and medium sized businesses from proprietary office productivity software suites (Microsoft Office) to open source alternatives (LibreOffice). When I compared the response/resolution times delivered by Microsoft with the average times seen on volunteer-staffed online OpenOffice and LibreOffice help forums, the latter would consistently produce a quicker turnaround.

Now it's your turn. All that innovation is going to need administrators to apply it to the real world. After all, we system administrators know just how little developers would get done without us. As the IT world grows and changes, you will be on the cutting edge.

About the Author

David Clinton is an experienced teacher, writer, and Linux system administrator. Besides this book, he is also the author of "Teach Yourself Linux Virtualization and High Availability - prepare for the LPIC-3 304 certification exam" (bootstrap-it.com) and of a number of Linux-based video courses at Pluralsight.

Get yourself certified for the Linux world using David Clinton’s latest Apress title, Practical LPIC-1 Linux Certification Study Guide, ISBN: 978-1-48422-357-4.