The Future of Linux

An informal report on the panel discussion held in Santa Clara on July 14.
Prepared Question #2

Where will Linux be in two to three years?

Sunil Saxena: “It's all on my foil right here.” Among Internets/Intranets/ISPs, Linux will continue to grow, especially in corporate America; we'll see continued adoption.

There will be new growth in the areas of E-commerce and business-to-business Internet EDI (electronic data interchange).

It will start showing up in all sorts of Internet appliances, including wearable computers, video-conferencing systems, etc.

We'll see 64-bit Linux on the IA-64 (Merced).

Linux will move into the data center via high-availability clusters and 16- to 32-way SMP systems.

Other spiffy features like I2O, hot swap, serial-based server management and control, etc., will be supported.

Linux developers will be granted early access and increased access to specs and Intel engineers.

“Please come talk to us and tell us what we can do.”

Larry Augustin: One big prediction: kernel 2.2 will be released within three years (“and that's pushing it”). [much laughter]

He also took the opportunity to thank Leonard Zubkoff for the four-way Xeon port being demoed by VA Research in the rear. Apparently he modified (added?) 20 lines of code at the last minute without even having all of the source there.

Robert Hart: Two to three years is an eternity for Linux—even a week is a long time.

People are lazy, and laziness leads to creativity, which means great improvements for Linux.

He again noted that it's the only non-MS operating system to gain market share and that it's being actively courted by large vendors such as Intel. He also noted that it's generating strong media interest, and not only that, but the reporting is generally both accurate and useful. (He thanked the representatives of the press in the audience.)

All photographs used with this article are by Jim Howell, courtesy of Taos Mountain.

There will be a strong showing of easy-to-use applications.

Linux will be the dominant server platform, not just on Intel but across all platforms. I believe he mentioned “64-bit, 4-way Merced,” too.

He mentioned that it was Bastille Day and recalled how, in 1788 and 1789, the people rose up and stormed the IT department and gave freedom to oppressed machines. “They even executed some people.” But he disputed his own comparison and said that Linux isn't so much a revolution as an evolution; it didn't happen just once.

He concluded by predicting that in two to three years, Linux will be “very nearly everywhere”.

Linus Torvalds: “I'm really bad at predictions.” For example, a few years ago when he was asked about SMP support, his reaction was, “I don't know, it's too expensive”; he said he didn't care much about it and didn't find it interesting. But for the last year he's worked almost exclusively on SMP.

2.2 will be out by then. [much more laughter]

The kernel is really just a vessel for what one can do; he claimed that it was inappropriate to ask him such a question—“what's really exciting is applications” (and the journaling file system is “slightly exciting”).

Servers will be big. [Do we sense a theme here?]

The interesting part will be “pretty” applications that traditionally haven't been UNIX-based.

Jeremy Allison: He used to keep track of every minor release of every piece of free software; these days, no one can do so for even 10% of it, and there will be some incredibly cool things in that other 90%.

Linux will be a “killer server platform.”

Everyone at Cisco Systems uses Linux every time they print, whether they know it or not. [See the c.o.l.a announcement for details about the printer-administration tool used at Cisco, and the article about Cisco in this issue.]

At least one major PC vendor will start shipping PCs with Linux pre-installed. (If not, Robert will start such a company.)

With regard to applications, vendors are already “not as greedy” as they've traditionally been on UNIX systems; Linux applications are priced similarly to Wintel applications, not five times more. Linux will be on the desktop, and one will be able to buy almost any application for Linux.

Again, he predicted that Linux will be installed on 20% to 25% of shipping Intel systems.


Greg Roelofs escaped from the University of Chicago with a degree in astrophysics and fled screaming to Silicon Valley, where he now does outrageously cool graphics, 3D and compression stuff for Philips Research. He is a member of Info-ZIP and the PNG group. He can be reached by e-mail at or on the web at