Linux 2000

I see Linux as a progressive movement as well as an operating system. And, with any movement you need to chart your direction. To help with that charting I decided that rather than write the April, 1994 editorial I would just go ahead and write the one for January, 2000. So, here it is...
What Else Make Linux a Success?

These two events were a significant help in getting Linux on its way.

  • formation of MoAmI Semiconductor from Motorola, AMD and Intel engineers in 1994. Linux was first operating system to run on their 32-bit and 64-bit chips in native mode in 1996.

  • Linux became the most popular operating system used in computer science classes in 1995. This meant that the pool of available talent in the Linux market was huge.

But we also need to consider the how events in the Unix community helped Linux. When Novell decided to buy USL in 1993 it was seen as a move to get their own product out there instead of following each Microsoft move. As we now know, this worked and NT (remember, it was going to take over the world) became the niche operating system. Likewise, the decision of many fence-sitting vendors to go with Linux gave it the needed push that caused it to become a mainstream system.

This could be considered a political decision. Unix, although open if you had an extra $100,000 for the purchase of source code meant that its openness was restricted to existing companies. Linux, with its $0 to get started characteristics made it possible for creative talent to get into the computer business-much like in the days of the Altair and the Apple II. The big difference is that the hardware was generic and inexpensive in 1994 so the creative work went into software.

This creativity made the larger vendors realize that they needed to stick with hardware and support as profit centers. Going to Linux as their operating system both reduced their software development costs and made it easier for them to find pre-trained systems programmers for the software work they still needed to perform.

Is there one specific application that I see as making everyone want a Linux-based computer system? Yes. I would say it is the availability of telephone directory information on-line. The fact that it is free and much easier to use than a traditional phone book has caused more people to elect for an Internet connection and Linux which offers a free reader for this information that a 5-year-old can easily use.

What happened to those old Linux activists and developers?

Strange as it may seem, most are still writing code or books. We don't see any who are CEOs or multi-billion dollar corporations. There are successes and many who were involved in the early days of Linux are making a very comfortable living but it seems that these people chose a career path based on their interests rather than attempting to become rich, famous or powerful.

Many of those who were minor players in Linux development or just got involved because Linux was so popular in colleges are now independent consultants. And they credit this happening with the Linux philosophy. The fact that they could get source code and learn about real software while in college gave them the necessary skills to more directly into the work of their choice.

What's Left to do?

We need to offer Internet connectivity to everyone. In the 1930s we started a rural electrification project that was to bring on-grid electricity to everyone in the United States. In the 1950s television broadcasting was seen as a way to get information to everyone. Both of these efforts had benefits but they also had an associated cost. They encouraged people to go to their own separate spaces, interact less with other people and passively consumei—consume both products and consume information.

In 1990 people were much less likely to know the names of their neighbors or world leaders than the names of fictitious characters on TV shows. Although Internet connectivity may not help people get to know their physical neighbors it does help them build a community of electronic neighbors. Using the Internet is active, not passive. Whether people elect to do research or electronically talk to another person they are now making real choices and possibly talking to real people.

Because Linux was so significant in getting tens of millions of people connected to the Internet in the past five years and Linux machines make up the majority of the machines connected to the Internet today, I see this as a project that the Linux community should take on. In 1993 and 1994 we were all out there telling people about linux. If today we all walked next door, introduced ourselves to those neighbors that have lived there since 1990 and then offered to help them get connected to the Internet we could claim another huge victory for the Linux progressive movement before year's end.

As always, send me e-mail at and tell me what you think. And mention LJ to your neighbor while your at it.


Phil Hughes