foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

The Economist predicts for 2008: More Ubuntu, more open software

, posted: 28-Dec-2007 05:20

The Economist has published its technology predictions for 2008. The article makes three claims, the third one of which has to do with openness and open source software. It elaborates on a number of interesting issues:

...the embrace of “openness” by firms that have grown fat on closed, proprietary technology is something we’ll see more of in 2008.

For a while now we have seen the tendency of traditionally closed and proprietary companies to use open source for a variety of reasons. In some cases, those companies just use open source software, without giving much back to the community. Apple using FreeBSD, for example. Or Google, building its entire infrastructure on heaps of open source software, without hardly ever contributing back.

Other companies take different approaches. IBM has been a strong supporter of open source for a long time already, allowing access to skilled developer talents and access into new markets. Yahoo is backing the Hadoop project to reduce the value of Google's proprietary map-reduce algorithm. Sun open sourced Solaris to rescue it from irrelevance (apparently successfully). As we can see, there are a number of reasons for closed companies to go open, even without going to a full-blown open source business model.

The Economist states:
Bulletproof distributions of Linux from Red Hat and Novell have long been used on back-office servers. Since the verdict against SCO, Linux has swiftly become popular in small businesses and the home.
I don't know if the verdict against SCO had much to do with Linux's increased acceptance in smaller businesses and the home, simply because the awareness about that lawsuit in those environments was probably pretty low anyway. I actually think that with the lawsuit defeated, Linux has become even more attractive to larger organisations, those with a legal department.
The article actually attributes much of the growth in Linux acceptance to Ubuntu:
That’s largely the doing of Gutsy Gibbon, the code-name for the Ubuntu 7.10 from Canonical. Along with distributions such as Linspire, Mint, Xandros, OpenSUSE and gOS, Ubuntu (and its siblings Kubuntu, Edubuntu and Xubuntu) has smoothed most of Linux’s geeky edges while polishing it for the desktop.
Yes, I couldn't agree more. While there are other smooth desktop Linux distros out there now, Ubuntu started the trend in the most successful way. I have seen Ubuntu installations grow in enterprises at an astonishing rate, not only replacing Windows, but also other Linux distros.
No question, Gutsy Gibbon is the sleekest, best integrated and most user-friendly Linux distribution yet. It’s now simpler to set up and configure than Windows. A great deal of work has gone into making the graphics, and especially the fonts, as intuitive and attractive as the Mac’s.
The point about the ease of setup and configuration is an important one. As I have written before here and here, installing Linux and software on modern Linux distributions is now easier than on Windows.
Like other Linux desktop editions, Ubuntu works perfectly well on lowly machines that couldn’t hope to run Windows XP, let alone Vista Home Edition or Apple’s OS-X.
And with that the article then goes into a description of the OLPC and other efforts for low-cost Linux-based laptops and machines. The article points out the price advantage of running Linux in the enterprise. Not only the lower-spec hardware that will suffice, but also the savings in license fees:
When firms are used to buying $1,000 office PCs running Vista Business Edition and loading each with a $200 copy of Microsoft Office, the attractions of a sub-$500 computer using a free operating system like Linux and a free productivity suite like OpenOffice suddenly become very compelling.

And that’s not counting the $20,000 or more needed for Microsoft’s Exchange and SharePoint server software. Again, Linux provides such server software for free.
I wish the article would have also mentioned the increased availability of professional support for Linux installations (from companies like Oracle, RedHat, Canonical, etc.) and open source software in general. It is important to note that most commercial open source software, even the non-Linux specific applications, have professional support available for them. The supposed 'lack of support' is a concern that still unnecessarily and wrongly holds back the adoption of open source software in enterprises, and so it is a point worth making repeatedly.

Finally, the article makes a bold prediction for the continued growth of Linux:

...neither Microsoft nor Apple can compete at the new price points being plumbed by companies looking to cut costs. With open-source software maturing fast, Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, MySQL, Evolution, Pidgin and some 23,000 other Linux applications available for free seem more than ready to fill that gap. By some reckonings, Linux fans will soon outnumber Macintosh addicts. Linus Torvalds should be rightly proud.
Outnumbering Apples? Soon? I'm not so sure about that one. Apple has quite a lead in the desktop market share over Linux, even though percentage-wise the Linux desktop market share grew more quickly last year.

But I certainly agree with the statement about maturing open source software, and the large number of good open source applications that are available (for Linux, but also for Windows). This is something that can greatly reduce the cost for any computer user, at home or in the enterprise.

Other related posts:
Munich already saved millions by switching to Linux
Smooth sailing with the Karmic Koala
A Linux distro for Cuba

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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