Dollars and Code
So how big is this revolution in financial terms? According to a 2007 study, if a company were to develop Linux in-house it would need about $7.6-billion dollars, 3,000 man-years of labor and those men and women would have to write about 283-million lines of source code.
After its introduction, another key milestone was Linus Torvald’s decision to adopt the GNU Public License or GPL in 1992. Without this key decision on how to license the software it is very unlikely Linux would have achieved the level of popularity it enjoys today.
In contrast, other operating systems like Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS X, don’t allow just anyone to look at the inner workings of the operating system. Those areas are reserved for their employees, and those under strict non-disclosure agreements.
With the GPL, Linux encourages collaboration on all levels by giving programmers a freedom they had never had with an operating system.
The Linux Foundation summarizes these important freedoms given by the GPL:
- The freedom to use the software for any purpose.
- The freedom to change the software to suit your needs.
- The freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors.
- The freedom to share the changes you make.
Freedom to Innovate
Why are these freedoms so important? As a software developer you have the freedom to implement Linux on almost any device you can imagine. Not just PCs. If you’re working on a new medical device you can see every last line of code and tailor it to fit the hardware perfectly. You can use not only the Linux kernel, but one of thousands of other open source software projects inspired by Linux to help you achieve your goals. All without haggling with an army of software vendors for tens for thousands of dollars on tools that may or may not work well for your project.
Although Linux started out as a hobby operating system it has grown into a force in the business world. In the year 1999 alone, IBM spent $1-billion to improve and advertise Linux. In 2003, just four years later, IBM also ran a Super Bowl ad to further promote the operating system. In 2005, Linus Torvalds appeared on the cover of BusinessWeek. By 2008, 75% of the source code contributed to the Linux operating system over the next two years was from corporations like Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Red Hat.
On the entertainment side, you might have heard of a movie called Titanic. In 1997, it became the first major film produced on Linux servers. Since then all of the major animation studios have followed suit: Dreamworks, Pixar, Weta Digital, and Industrial Light & Magic.
Personally, I have developed software running on Linux for custom electronics ranging from video capture systems on police cars, GPS units, medical devices, and more. Working with Linux allowed me to leverage knowledge from one project and apply it to another. I didn’t have to learn a whole new operating system and a whole new programming language with each project. I continue to benefit from Linux today with Develare. The websites we develop run almost exclusively on Linux.
Thanks to Linux and its successes other major open source projects have popped up. Using open source projects, programmers can work together across department lines, across company lines, and across national lines. Programmers are no longer forced to re-invent the wheel. This saves time, money and benefits everyone.
It’s hard to believe that a little hobby operating system uploaded by Linus Torvalds on August 25, 1991. An operating system with just over 10,000 lines of code would swell into 283-million lines of code, revolutionize an industry, and allow programmers to spread the freedom of thought across the world. This little act touches not just programmers, but everyone. As we’re texting away on our Android smartphones, getting cash from ATMs, donating blood at our local blood bank, or surfing around on the web. Linux is everywhere.
It’s been a great twenty years, and I look forward to the reverberations of this intellectual revolution in the next twenty.
- ArsTechnica: Linux kernel version bumped up to 3.0 as 20th birthday approaches
- Wikipedia: Linux
- Wikipedia: Linux kernel
- PCWorld: Happy 20th Birthday, Linux: The Celebrations Begin
- Linux Foundation: The 20th Anniversary of Linux [http://www.linuxfoundation.org/20th/]
- Apache web server hit a home run in 2010
- Wikipedia: GNU General Public License
- TechCrunch: Infographic: Linux Then and Now
- Wikipedia: Tux
- comp.os.minix: What would you like to see most in minix?