Does Linux Still Fill a Need?

Joel Barker wrote an interesting book entitled, "Paradigms:The Business of Discovering the Future". Originally written several years ago, I find it relevant today. In his book Barker has more of an interest in how we think about the future than making predictions.

Which brings us to the evolving relevancy of Linux. When I began using Linux it solved several problems I faced. Linux provided a way for me to learn UNIX without having to pay $20,000 for the so-called privilege of owning a Solaris OS. Linux also ran my PC at a remarkable speed. It gave me an Internet server unavailable even at a cost. It allowed me to connect to the Internet when Netware refused.

I say Linux is evolving because it still fills similar needs, but not necessarily in the mainstream of the PC world and at the growth rate in the US and other leading industrial nations where cost is not a factor. Many savvy PC users have switched to Apple's Macintosh and of all things Vista. Recently, a company of stature asked me to apply for a level 3 advanced Linux administrator position managing a department. I turned them down. I have my reasons, but if you have read my articles in the past, you know I don't apply for positions that require three people and the company wants only one.

I see Linux competitors catching up in many areas and it bothers me. It goes back to the formula our competitors use called adopt and extend. It also confuses potential users who depend on information about infrastructure from vendors. And Linux doesn't have as many vendors as the other guy.

I expect to see comments from the community like I have in the past quoting statistics from places like Brazil, China and so forth. I have already taken those issues into consideration. I'm not writing in that context. I'm not ignoring adoption rates. I'm asking how can we think about the future of Linux outside of our belief systems and factoids.'

I began considering this subject when my wife looked up at me during breakfast and took a shot at music formats. Without using technical terms like digital convergence she ran through the history of her own money spent on music. She said that my old car has a cassette player and have I considered that cassettes are gone. Then she said the world switched to CDs. Now, she said that people are downloading hundreds of albums into a device the size of a fountain pen and smaller. She then said with the speed of change that something has the potential of replacing the pen size device. She didn't know what would happen but many problems existed in each format from cassette to the pen. Wouldn't something solve even more problems.

She wasn't making a prediction per say, she was thoughtfully wondering about the future given the need to solve problems. As a medical professional she pointed out how headphones and ear pieces are know to damage ones hearing. To her, that's a big problem. She was thinking about the future.

Perhaps you get the gist. Instead of making predictions, how can we think about how Linux evolved will do, what it has always done best, to meet future needs. Some might say that people have used Linux in devices and that's the future. I would agree in the short term and in the current context. What about looking outside that context.

Right now, I'm angry. Someone plowed into the back of my truck and put me in the hospital. The wreck damaged my knee. I had an MRI and the doctor told me I had no real damage. The MRI didn't reveal swelling in my knee, a sprain in my LCL and excruciating pain. The MRI didn't show those things. The doctor insisted on exalting the infallibility of the MRI. Several years before, a doctor said something similar about the CT Scan to me. Both men had a vested interest in their paradigms. If something else came along where would they stand on the next technology?

Thinking about the future of Linux requires identifying needs not met in the IT world. What problems have we yet to solve? What technology is emerging and are we keeping up with the problems of the world's emerging technology? Will it be Betamax or VCR?

Can Linux meet the challenges? I'm not going to predict if Linux can, but I want to think about it in terms of what it brings to the table: The vast number of people working together, in synergistic ways, that think about solving problems in the uncomfortable area of adoption as innovators. That's something that belongs to Linux in spades. No one has mustered that kind of human intelligence before. That's something I can see as relevant to the future. All I ask this late in the year is for you and I to just think about it eh.


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Need driven

Blaque's picture

Isn't Linux/FOSS a need driven idea to begin with. At its core this is all the product of hobbyist that NEEDED something and decided to build their own solution and share it. Sometimes its a clone of something thats just to expensive or sometimes its something that doesn't exist. But as long as there is a need for something and software is still a money making business then there will be someone that will develop something they can use and share it in order to get help on functionality. I understand the concern about evolution in this article but it would seem that the projects that are driven out of pure need would be be least resistant to change. What purpose would it serve to develop something neither you nor anyone else can use.

I truly believe this does a lot to discredit the ideas that drive capitalism and many people try to blur it as much as possible. Call it socialist if you want but to oppose it is to oppose the freedom to do as you please that America is supposedly based on. Or maybe its do as you please as long as it keeps money flowing.

Linux is good but support is not

ideaman's picture

I think linux is good. The problem is not with linux, but with the quality of software that can run on it. Currently, the good commercial programs mustly run on Windows and Macs... which is quite sad.

Back to Latin class with you!

Anonymous's picture

It's "per se" and not "per say". "Ad leones!" with you.

not only latin...

Anonymous's picture

The one before last paragraph ends with "Will it be Betamax or VCR?"
WOW! I thought it was Betamax vs. VHS.

Adelstein, Linux, and the Future

S Schilz's picture

What is the future of Linux? I have heard it in many blogs and in the responses here to Mr. Adelstein's post: "who cares, we're here now." But, for whom are you (Linux) here? I have played with Linux distros in the past and ran into numerous problems with configuring wireless or scanners, etc. The last attempt with a newer dist and a newer system ended with me loading a number of interesting games on the box and giving it to my nephew as a gift. He won't need access to the internet because for him it still is forbidden. In all the problems I've had, I searched the forums and spent hours and hours troubleshooting. What success I've had was greatly outweighed by the ease of manipulating Windows to do what I want...and despite all protests to the contrary, there is no Linux-based office productivity suite that competes on the scale of MS. Sorry. And, the fact that nearly every business I communicate with utilizes the same MS software makes project work less complicated. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of multiple Linux distros and the alternatives offered to MS market dominance, however, I have no real reason to embrace the world of Linux. This, then, leads to Mr. Adelstein's question: what problems are Linux applications solving? Why should I get brand X when Y works fine? For the mainstream, and, yes, MS is the mainstream, there is no real need to switch to anything else. Blogs have pointed to the fact that the MS Vista blunder may create such a need (in abstract terms), but again, the necessity must be defined and marketed as such. This is what Apple has done to capitalize on their market-share. The fact that there are so many disparate distros available merely serves to confuse potential buyers. Moves such as Dell's to market Ubuntu have the potential to open recognition to this foggy world of Linux. Otherwise, we will remain a small group of disgruntled coders whining like Ross Perot supporters amid the relentless crusade of party politics...

Does food still fill a need?

Anonymous's picture

This question is hardly any different from asking if food still fills a need, the author seem to be ignorant of the flexibility of the Linux operating system, this flexibility is one of the many reasons why Linux is still relevant in the face of Vista and Macintosh Operating systems.

Too often the mistake that suggests that rich countries are homogeneously rich and poor countries are homogeneously poor is made this article is one of them. There are poorer people and companies in rich countries that has to or would be better off using Linux for a certain solution, another bad implication is that well to do companies ignore more flexible cost effective solutions simply because they have money, the most important thing I have come to realize in most instances where Linux is not used is that there is ignorance of it.

The flexibility granted by the licensing and cost of Linux, coupled with special design offers real outstanding benefits to users it is not a belief system, it is a proven practical solution.

The freedom need

Anonymous's picture

Linux - thanks to the GPL - fills the 'freedom need'. You know, the four freedoms and all of that there stuff.

So Linux competitors are catching up? What competitors and how? And when did 'embrace, extend and extinguish' become 'adopt and extend'?

What ever happened to Mr. Adelstein?

Poncio's picture

A couple of years ago, while writing for Lxer as an editor, Tom Adelstein was a fervent anti-Microsoft fellow. He even presented some very interesting material wich painted Microsoft as it is: a mafia. Suddenly, he became a Microsoft apologist, and his posts have lost (to my eyes) any interest.
So, I came to wonder: Does Tom Still Fill a Need?

What ever happened to Mr. Adelstein?

Tom Adelstein's picture

Nah. I don't fill a need. But, you may want to run a search for Linux System Administration on Amazon or Google. That might see if a need is filled. I quit writing for Lxer to spend two years documenting some technology we use in the open source community.

Now, I don't have a clue what "Microsoft Apologist" means. It's some vague term I suppose that means something to you. On my watch, I follow some contemporary out-of-favor notions that have reigned true for centuries. Now, I'm no sage, but for those who aspire to be try this:

"Taoists follow the art of 'wu wei', which is to achieve action through minimal action. "It is the practice of going against the stream not by struggling against it and thrashing about, but by standing still and letting the stream do all the work. Thus the sage knows that relative to the river, he still moves against the current. To the outside world the sage appears to take no action - but in fact he takes action long before others ever foresee the need for action."

I don't apologize for asking that we use our writing efforts to document an operating system and the applications that use it rather than waste time writing to ourselves about the aging people in Redmond.

And pardon me if I recover from an intense set of deadlines spanning a 24 month period.


Garth's picture

The world doesn't care if you think it's relevant or not, it's there anyway.

People switching *to* Vista? Really?

DiBosco's picture

This is a very strange article indeed. Almost *everyone* I speak to who has bought a new PC recently *hates* Vista and I am helping people switch to Linux to improve the speed of the PCs no end. The only people I know who switch to Macs are people who are running music studios, as Apple bought out some software company and pulled the Windows support. (Apple would be just as bad as Microsoft if they became as big.) People who really know about PCs don't tend to go to Apple as it's more about style and fashion than offering greater choice or freedom than Windows.

Beyond any doubt, Linux is becoming a solution for more and more people every day and will definitely continue to do so. What a very strange article indeed.

Linux Journal, please, if

Kensai's picture

Linux Journal, please, if you want to attract more readers to your site. Please, at least feature good articles. This one said too much and said nothing at the same time, is pointless. I mean, this is the kind of articles that go on a Web Log, not a professional site.

Unprofessional and Rambling

Steven Ketelsen's picture

I hope you folks haven't run out of content or run out of qualified people to provide it, as this article would indicate. I certainly hope it's not being published in February's LJ.

Unprofessioanl and Rambling

Tom Adelstein's picture

It's not an article for print and perhaps you might take a look at Barker's book. It might have some relevance in the Business of Paradigms. Anyway, that's it for replying to comments.

"The vast number of people

ScottMGS's picture

"The vast number of people working together, in synergistic ways, that think about solving problems in the uncomfortable area of adoption as innovators. That's something that belongs to Linux in spades."

Got that backwards. Linux is a product of those synergistic problem solvers. What else can that wondrous power produce?

wrong and right

Tom Adelstein's picture

I mean, give up wrong and right. Try works or doesn't work. It's really about how one thinks about something rather than who is right and who is wrong, what kind of grammar people use. Does the meaning come across? Did you communicate your intention? The wording of a sentence? You made the case.

Article plus Off topic re CT vs MRI

Anonymous's picture

Good example about considering the future and Linux's contribution. We do need to identify and define problems and consider if they can be solved with GNU/Linux (one to keep Richard happy) and OSS.

I'm really sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you experience a full and speedy recovery. But you might want to get some second opinions re the MDs you've been seeing. I'm not an MD or a med pro, but I've worked within the med electronic device community for about 20 years not to mention a bunch of knee and back injuries after being a gym rat for about 25 yrs.

If I'm not mistaken, the MDs that I've seen considered the CT scan to be really good for skeletal tissue and the MRI for soft tissue.

BTW, I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium re NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) back in the early 80's when it was in clinical trials (I think). Now they call it MRI since they were concerned people might freak out at the thought of something nuclear going on near their body. Very cool technology, though.

Write on, Tom.