Does Linux Still Fill a Need?

by Tom Adelstein

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.