Thirty years of Linux

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Linux has become, since that distant August 1991, the predominant operating system. But its real contribution to IT is the open source model.

August 25, 1991 is considered the “birth” date of Linux. It is not the date of his debut but it is perhaps more symbolic. The one in which Linus Torvalds asked the community of the then Minix newsgroup for indications on what to insert in a new Unix-like operating system after having already ported bash and gcc. “I’ll have something concrete in a fewmonths,” Torvalds wrote, in fact the first release of the Linux kernel will take place on September 17. Today it is easy to consider Linux the operating system largely predominant in corporate IT.

All clouds, so to speak, are based on some distribution, even very personal, of the Penguin’s operating system. Even Azure – Microsoft’s cloud, creator of Windows – employs it in various ways. Linux is the operating system on which servers, hyperconverged systems, mainframes, supercomputersare based. But also much more: from NAS to media players passing through cars and arriving in orbit at the ISS. And let’s not forget the plethora of nanocomputers for hobby to industrial applications. Linux has only missed the success on desktops for windows dominance.

But today it also has, if desired, a Linux component with the Windows Subsystem for Linux, or WSL. But it is a failure to succeed that now counts for little. Linux is still in the pockets of all of us through smartphones, the real “junctions” of digital life. Linux is in fact the “dad” of Android (Apple iOS derives from BSD, a “cousin” of Linux as another Unix-like operating system). In short, if suddenly Linux disappeared from the IT scene, everything or almost everything would stop.

Not bad for an operating system that twenty years ago was considered, by the majority of companies, little more than a toy for experts. How was it possible to base the activity of a company on an operating system that cost nothing and that was headed by a generic “community” of developers? The serious platforms were obviously other:proprietary, expensive, managed directly by large software houses.

If that vision seems short-sighted to us today, it is because the real contribution to the development of IT that brought Linux was not simply a new operating system. It was the very model of open source and community development. And the ability to get your hands, if you had the right skills, in software products to adapt them to your needs. Whether it was done directly by the IT team of a company or by an external partner company did not and does not matter much. The key concept is that it can be done: it is the product that adapts to the user and not, as it had been for a long time, vice versa.

It is no coincidence that the growth first and then the success of Linux came in a period of great acceleration of IT and

digitization. It is a virtuous circle in which this acceleration would not have been possible without that success. Linux allows you to do, quickly, things that a proprietary platform would not allow you to do because it is monolithic and must be carried out by a single company, the one that owns it. Open and community development, on the other hand, allows us to follow many different guidelines at the same time,always with the possibility of collaboration and “peer review” by everyone.

A changing scenario

In the thirty years that Linux has spent growing progressively, much has changed in the development of its world, not just the kernel specifically. Linux is a very large project that involves an entire global communitytoday, with contributions from everywhere. And it is often generically called Linux but it means one of the many projects derived in some way from the application of Linux in enterprises or in the cloud. Think for example of the overwhelming success of the container model thanks to Kubernetes.

We also think about the fact that the affirmation of the open source model on the software side has led to the gradual, although much less evident, growth of the open hardware model. The difference between the two areas is, as it happens, demonstrated by the anniversaries. In 2021 Linux turns thirty, its reference enterprise distribution for the enterprise(RHEL)about twenty (to be precise 21), the main consortium for open hardware (the Open Compute Project Foundation)ten. A symbolic timeline for which the “open” model is born, affirms, extends beyond software.

What can change in the next thirty years – but also only ten – for Linux and its

philosophy? Certainly at the center of everyone’s attention today there is cyber security:the advantage of open source has always been the verifiability of the code for anyone, which facilitates the highlighting and then solving of problems and security flaws. Now the direction on which to accelerate is that of intrinsic safety,by design. Not only for the Linux kernel but for all open source projects, starting with those of importance for businesses. But we need to go even further. Our life is increasingly digital and made of code that “turns” in the most disparate technological objects and digital services that surround us. Too often these objects and services are not really open and there is little possibility of verifying, on the code side, their operation. For cyber security but also for the privacy of information. There is and will be more and more need for the openness and transparency of the open source model, in any aspect of technology. However Linux changes in the future, the affirmation of this philosophy is its most important fruit.