When Linus Torvalds, 21, a then Helsinki computer science student, released a new kind of computing system built on top of a kernel that he created on August 25, 1991, he laid the foundation for what became the Linux operating system.
Today, the Linux community is estimated to have 86 million users. It has become the backbone of large companies and is installed in government systems and embedded in devices around the world.
That percentage of Linux users is a bit misleading. When we look below that 86 million figure, we find that Linux server, network, and enterprise use is extensive. But the number of desktop Linux users is much smaller.
Consider these statistics obtained from a report compiled by Nick Galov:
- Microsoft Windows users (business and personal) represent about 83 percent of the global computing market.
- In early 2021, Linux’s net market share was 2.35 percent.
- Digging deeper, we find that 100 percent of the world’s top 500 supercomputers run on Linux.
- The same is true for 96.3 percent of the 1 million top servers. They also run on Linux.
- Only two of the top 25 websites in the world do not use Linux.
- When it comes to cloud computing infrastructure, 90 percent runs on Linux and almost all of the best cloud hosts use it.
So yes, Linux is of vital importance to technology globally. For some industries, running proprietary software on an open source Linux distribution is no exception, it is the general rule.
“Almost every network and security device available today runs a Linux kernel,” Chris Grundemann, analyst at the engineering-led technology research firm GigaOmhe told LinuxInsider.
“The open networking revolution currently underway is driving even more access to that Linux kernel and the power and security of an open Linux platform through hardware and software unbundling,” he said.
The Linux desktop offers users a reliable and rigorously secure computing alternative to Windows and macOS. But without a real marketing plan for desktop Linux, typical computer users have no idea that Linux exists as a viable, free operating system.
Even computer users who prefer other platforms benefit from Linux. It has been ported to more hardware platforms than any other operating system, thanks to the popularity of the Linux-based Android operating system.
Non-Linux users may not yet know that the Linux desktop, and all the thousands of software titles it runs, are free. Maybe they have the misconception that Linux is still a command line nightmare. Or maybe they mistakenly think that your graphical user interface (GUI) is unfamiliar to them.
In reality, Linux desktop environments can mimic the appearance of Windows and Mac computers. Additionally, there are dozens of Linux desktop user interface options and literally hundreds of Linux distributions to choose from.
Consciousness took time
Linux awareness in the company was non-existent 30 years ago. Even in the late 1990s, Linux could not provide the support and predictability needed in an enterprise environment. Companies using Linux had to create their own skill sets based on a free distribution or create their own internal version. The risk of adoption was high.
In the early 1990s, the use of Linux in enterprise environments was generally geared towards web servers, FTP, corporate backends, and smaller-scale applications. Linux was much less about workloads.
As the 90s progressed into the 2000s, basic servers became the norm and Linux had the best stability and the largest developer ecosystem. That was and still is very attractive to companies.
Most companies in the 1990s had hardware combinations with a lot of Sun and SGI hardware. Add to that a long list of software applications that were very particular about the hardware they ran on. All of that changed in the early 2000s.
The financial markets were one of the first to adopt Linux. Wall Street banks demanded Linux support for their enterprise application servers. All major companies now have an open source strategy. Linux in the enterprise is very different today.
“As the years went by, Linux first became the operating system of choice for corporate engineers working on their own projects, and then it began to appear in set-top boxes and other low-cost electronic devices,” said GigaOm analyst Jon Collins to LinuxInsider.
The now dominance of x86 architecture has to play an important role in the growth of Linux, he added. But nonetheless, it took on a life of its own to be the de facto force we see today, he said.
Linux takes control
It’s hard to point to another technology that has changed the technical and business landscape like Linux has. Linux proved its resilience after 30 years of being free and open.
For example, embedded Linux is used on a wide variety of devices and machines. It is embedded in automobiles, network routers, facility automation controls, entertainment equipment, and medical equipment.
By having Linux integrated into the retail supply chain, retailers can efficiently offer 24/7 service and fast delivery, according to Gerald Pfeifer, CTO of Suse.
“Linux allows retailers to have the visibility they need to better manage the supply chain, from the production of goods to their transport, from the collection of products in warehouses to their shipment to customers by a delivery agent with a smart device (running Linux) to deliver them. ” told LinuxInsider.
Linux has been highly prevalent in driving digital transformation during a period that has seen the meteoric rise of e-commerce, he observed. Open source software has enabled retailers around the world to run their operations efficiently and securely. It also allowed them to anticipate needs and offer the personalized services that all retailers have grown accustomed to.
“In fact, Amazon EC2 started as Amazon’s own infrastructure for its retail business. Many PoS systems run on Linux, as do most Wi-Fi routers, IoT devices, and e-commerce websites, ”said Pfeifer.
Linux High Tech today
As people around the world celebrate and discuss 30 years of Linux, the focus is rightly on Martian supercomputers and helicopters and many other highly developer-centric initiatives, GigaOm’s Grundemann observed.
“Linux plays an essential role in routers, switches, firewalls and other devices. It is the connective tissue of our Internet-enabled economy, ”he said.
Even Juniper Networks’ Junos operating system, originally built on top of FreeBSD, has now switched to a native Linux kernel with Junos OS Evolve. This is true whether the device is physical or virtual. All those virtual network functions (VNFs) also run on Linux, he added.
“So as we celebrate Tux turning 30 this year, remember it’s Tux, I mean Linux, to the bottom of the infrastructure stack,” Grundemann said of the Linux mascot.
Linux for the past 30 years has been instrumental in transforming industries around the world by helping them overcome complex challenges and being a catalyst for business and technology innovation, according to Suse’s Pfeifer.
“Linux touches what we use every day, at work, at home, and on the go. It has become one of the most recognized and adopted software projects. Along the way, he reinvented how communities and companies develop code, and helped establish the concept of open source, a term that did not yet exist when Linux was born, “he added.
Beyond the clouds
Linux has played a pivotal role in transforming space exploration and has kept satellites operating in space. By Linux’s 20th anniversary, essentially all the data NASA received from space was processed by Linux servers. Its supercomputers have been running Linux, along with the top 500 supercomputers in the world.
“It was Linux that powered the Ingenuity Mars helicopter’s 293 million-mile journey to Mars aboard the Perseverance Rover last July. The International Space Station has relied on Linux for years, as well as leveraging open source software in R&D, including SpacexIt’s a reusable rocket, “said Pfeifer.
Today’s space missions are now focused on using technologies that are more agile, less expensive, and more accessible. It’s no wonder that open source is becoming more and more common in space exploration projects, he added.
To that end, Linux offers interoperability and wide adoption, a low-cost, high-quality barrier to entry, and the power of communities.
“Linux and open source have proven to be efficient and reliable. Now it goes into orbit and returns to the Moon and Mars, ”said Pfeifer.