| Sep 20, 2021

3 MIN READ

Written by Sachin Dabir

30 years of Linux – just an operating system or catalyst of societal change?

To describe the impact of Linux all the adjectives put together would be inadequate. Linux has changed not just the technology world but our lives too, in many ways! It would not be an exaggeration if I say that no other software has had such a profound effect on the society. To understand this impact just look at what are the forces shaping our lives today:

  • The social media giants have fundamentally changed the social fabric of interactions
  • The e-commerce platforms have totally altered the way we go for shopping
  • IoT and cloud platforms have pushed technology into our kitchens and bedrooms
  • The power of instant news available in the remotest corner of the world through mobile phones has impacted the way we vote-in or vote-out the governments

When you go deeper into the foundation of these personal and social life changing forces, you would notice that these technology platforms are all powered by Linux – in fact they came into existence directly or indirectly because of Linux.

While Linux is just an operating system, it in itself and due to its open source development model has shaped the world in so many ways.

Linux – the operating system for computers:

Linux is not the first operating system. There have been many operating systems and many of them are technically superior too. Linux itself is an attempt to make something like Minix operating system. Few of the key reasons for popularity of Linux were:

  • A Unix like operating system being available on personal computers – 386 based computers at that time
  • Being developed in open and collaborative manner and later on released under GPL license (the license was changed to GPL after few months of its first release)
  • It was based on community development model but allowed monetization – one of the key reasons for switching to GPL license.

And what an impact Linux as an operating system made on technology fabric! Little did Linus Torvalds would have imagined in August of 1991 that there would be a commercial company selling Linux and it would attain a valuation of $34 Billion!!

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s there were more than dozen companies in the business of offering support to Linux. Apart from Red Hat there have been success stories like SuSe, Ubuntu, CentOS etc. Android and flavors of Linux running on hundreds of types of devices is a testimony to the versatility of Linux. To understand the impact of the Linux operating system you have to take deep breath and visualize that Linux is powering billions of mobile phones, billions of chips and micro devices going to Mars for discovery, millions of servers powering the internet and cloud infrastructure of the world!!

In my opinion, Linux has made even greater impact on our society than just an operating system. It is not the technology alone that has made the difference. If you look at the technology in a standalone mode, it was trying to mimic another operating system. It was not meant to offer any fundamentally new concept. So, what made such a huge impact? Let us look at that:

Linux  – the operating system for the societal development model

The community based development model’s success can be judged by the fact that Microsoft which was the strongest critic of the model in early 2000s has now embraced this model in a big way and is a big contributor to many critical open source based project.

Success of Linux established the confidence in its development model and led to embracing of large number of projects powering critical infrastructure of the 21st century world!

The success of social media giants, cloud platform companies, e-commerce companies that are shaping our lives lies in the underlying infrastructure that they run on. This infrastructure is powered by Linux and many open source software.

The open source development model has not only resulted in superior quality software but it has come to be associated with innovation. The development model’s distributed nature has empowered millions of developers in every corner of the world to innovate and contribute. It has given confidence to entrepreneurs and created a level playing field for innovation. The impact of this model is seen in every field of our lives.

The education institutions have opened up their classrooms and knowledge repositories, governments have opened up access to the data to the citizens, industries such as banking, brokerage firms, insurance companies have evolved their processes caused by both – the availability of technology platforms that are powered by open source software and by the community development model itself. The biggest change has been the way society has started interacting globally. Society has developed more confidence in the community led movement – be it technology or social cause.

For such a fundamental change to happen it needs a solid success story and Linux has shown that community led development can bring about this change. Although Linux is already 30 years old, but the success of this model would be felt for next at least 30 years!