Open Source

What CAN'T Linux do?

Jack Wallen asks the question, "What can't Linux do?" Well, it can control your fish tank and run on a wristwatch, for starters.

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine sent me a link to a story about a man who clustered together 16 Playstation 3s using Linux to simulate black holes. I had forgotten about this until yesterday when I was thinking, "What can't Linux do?" I know, I know, you're thinking: Alright fanboy, bring on your dogma. Not so. This isn't one of those pie in the sky, wishful thinking blog entries where I am going to go on to spout that Linux will, in fact: cure cancer, solve global warming, fix the U.S. economic crisis, and release the world from its dependency on oil (although it might help in those arenas).

But think about it. People have made Linux take on tasks no one probably thought it capable of.

1. The story mentioned above. A man installs Linux on 16 Playstation 3s (with zero hardware modifications), clusters them together, and creates a system to simulate black holes.

2. Installing Linux on a Mac. I was just reading the most recent Wired magazine that has a good story on how Apple has created a very closed system where only Apple software plays on Apple hardware. Hello Yellow Dog Linux! I have run Linux on an iBook - it was sweet.

3. Routers. We all know that Linux works well on routers. OpenWRT installs well on many Linksys routers.

4. For fish tanks. Yes you read it correctly. At one point I had a small Linux box set up to control the lighting and wave action on a reef tank. This was done with the old X10 remote system and bottle rocket software.

5. Linux on a watch. Yes, IBM did it back in 2000.

6. Linux on mobile devices. Back in 2000, I was the proud owner of one of the short-lived Agenda handheld devices that used Linux. Not only did this serve as a PDA, but I also managed to get a light-weight version of Apache installed and ran a small Web site from the device. And, hopefully, soon we'll see the Google Android platform!!!

7. Car navigation. In 2004 Sony introduced three Linux-based in-car navigation systems.

8. Home security. A small startup in Britain called AlertMe sells a Linux-based home monitoring system that allows you to monitor your home from any Web-enabled phone or Web browser.

9. NAS. There are plenty of companies using Linux on network attached storage devices.

10. Gaming platforms. Not just the PS3s as mentioned before. Linux has been sucessfully installed on: Gamecube, Gameboy, PS1, PS2, Sega Genesis, N64, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Super Nintendo, Xbox.

11. Airplane black boxes. Montavista uses a Carrier Grade Linux to power in-flight recorders.

12. Brain surgery. Yep. This Linux-powered robot helps in brain surgery.

That's the short list.

My point is this. Linux is an incredibly flexible platform that can be stretched and tweaked to do nearly anything. From fish tanks to brain surgery, the list will only continue to grow.

And, of course, I know the one thing that everyone is going to chime in with "Linux can't play games." Well, that's not true, it just doesn't play all the "game aficionado games" without the help of Wine. But, yes, Linux does in fact play games.

So, what exactly can't Linux do? It's your turn. Go.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

Editor's Picks