How Linux has changed the business landscape: It's more than you think

On the year of Linux's 30th anniversary, Jack Wallen ponders how the open-source operating system has profoundly affected the landscape of enterprise businesses.

Linux celebrates 30 years of open source goodness

Linux is 30 years old. I was just starting graduate school by the time Linus Torvalds began working on the project. I remember so well, back at Purdue, the first time I used email. I felt like I'd entered a magical realm where anything was possible. It was all text-based (probably Elm or Mutt) and once you knew the keyboard commands you were ready to communicate with everyone.

SEE: Linux turns 30: Celebrating the open source operating system (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Little did I know, at the same time I was learning the ins and outs of email, somewhere across the globe another student was learning how to build an entire operating system.

Perspective is fun.

Back then, I had no idea how businesses ran. I didn't really care, because the field I was studying had absolutely nothing to do with business, computers, networking, security or tech in general. Little did I know how things would change.

Back in my early days of using and covering the Linux operating system, it was a very different beast. The first Linux convention I attended was all trenchcoat-wearing hackers in fedoras and fingerless gloves. I felt as though I'd stepped into one of William Gibson's worlds and the keyboard cowboys were doing their best to take down the giant companies that would someday trademark our brains and commodify our every thought. They'd be pushing ads directly into our brains, and we'd upload new thoughts and memories via a stem port on the back of our skulls. Those hackers were our saviors, and big business was the enemy of all humankind.

SEE: My life with Linux: A retrospective (TechRepublic) 

At least that's the scenario that played out in my mind as I walked the halls of the convention. 

There were no giant megacompanies hoisting banners above booths. There were no Fortune 500 sponsors. There were developers, dreamers and users who knew (to their core) that world domination was the future of Linux.

Only the domination wouldn't come on the desktop as we thought. Instead, it would happen in the back end; on the servers and data centers. 

SEE: 5 Linux server distributions you should be using (TechRepublic Premium)

And when I toss my memory back to that fateful weekend convention, this particular thought would never have crossed my mind:

Without Linux, most enterprise businesses wouldn't make it.

Don't believe me? Let me help you understand why I've come to a conclusion my younger self would never have predicted.

But what gives? We're talking about Linux, not open-source in general. That's an easy answer: Without Linux, open-source wouldn't be where it is today. Of course, open-source predates Linux. Back in 1979, Donald Knuth had the TeX typesetting system and in 1983, RMS has the GNU operating system. However, it wasn't until Linus Torvalds created Linux that open-source garnered serious attention. And had Linux not been released under the GPL, open-source might never have grown beyond basements and classrooms. 

The pet project of Linus Torvalds ignited open-source and profoundly altered its trajectory. Had that never happened, enterprise businesses would be under the massive weight of vendor lock, and projects like Kubernetes might have never seen the light of day. That translates to less agile and less profitable businesses. 

But let's consider yet another possibility. Linux has helped usher the world of business to a developer-centric frame of being. Consider this: Had Linux never been created (and, thus, open-source never risen to popularity), businesses would be at the mercy of software companies to deliver the tools they need to function. But because of Linux and open-source, companies can look to their developers to create very specific tools and systems to build delivery pipelines and workflows that not only make business possible but efficient and reliable. 

SEE: Rust: What developers need to know about this programming language (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Such a state would never have come into existence, were it not for Linux bridging so many gaps. Instead, enterprise companies (and their developers) would be relegated to costly, inflexible proprietary software.

Thanks to Linux, we have a world that can easily pivot and software that can be bent and molded into serving exactly the purpose we need. We have microservices, the Internet of Things, edge computing, big data, and many other tools that help run the enterprise landscape.

Linux has given us much more than just an open-source operating system that has been lucky to enjoy single-digit market share on the desktop space; it's been rocket fuel for modernization. Without Linux, every business on the planet would struggle to meet overwhelming demand and might well fail.

And that's how Linux has changed the business landscape.

This is part two of a four-part series on Linux's 30th anniversary. See parts one, three and four of this series. The entire series is available in this free PDF download.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....