What will be after Linux?
An tweet on twitter lead me to some thoughts. The question in this tweet was “What will be after Linux?” At first this seems as a question of a Solaris fanboy and obviously you would expect that i would opt for Solaris in this article. I have my opinion but i won´t discuss it here. I won´t even give a hint because honestly spoken, i have no idea. It´s relatively easy to look 6 months in the future, it´s much harder to do this for 12 month and it´s outright impossible to do this for a point in time in a 5 years interval (okay, when you make your predictions in a generic way, it´s easy).
When we look into the history of computing, we see many technologies with a vast amount of market share having problems later on. Mainframes are such a example. Yeah … Sun is such an example … nobody expected in 1998 that Solaris would have the role of something else than the market leader in web services 10 years later. Many thought of Longhorn as the next big thing killing all other OSes. We´ve got Vista. In ten years we will think about Vista in the same way as Windows 98SE. Otherway round we see many systems which were almost dead with a bright future today. Think about MacOS 9 and MacOS X. Apple was pretty much a few years ago and today the market share on notebooks looks as near to 50%, at least when you walk through the train between Hamburg and Berlin. Other way round: 5 or 6 years ago the Palm Pilot was the unconquered leader of it´s market … today … the complete market was sucked up by cellular phone vendors and the vendor of a mp3-player on steroids. Apache vs. lighttpd or nginx. Sendmail vs. Postfix. Ingres vs. Oracle. CP/M vs. DOS. dBase vs. Access et al.
This example should show us one thing: There is no thing in IT that keeps it´s lead forever. Comebacks are possible. Complete removal from the market place is possible. It´s foolish to assume that any piece technology is excempted from this rule.
So Linux will encounter the same lifecycle. Think this is impossible? What would happen, if Linus Torvalds decides to take his midlife crisis and starts to do research on real penguins in a polar station. What would happen, if one of the large proponents (Red Hat, SuSE, Canonical) would collapse under the weight of this or the next recession? That´s not a linux-only thing … just think about the “Steven Jobs is ill/dead/the new iGod” rumours.
In my opinion Linux is already on the downward path. There wasn´t an innovation in Linux that gave me the thought “Wow, that´s cool” for a long, long time (And to be honest: For many features i thought as cool features in Linux in my early UNIX years i´ve learned later on that they were implemented somewhere else (IRIX, Solaris, some old BSD et al) before) … but your perspective may vary as your milage. This is nature of opinions. Dbase was moved out of market by other competitors making a faster transition to Windows. lighttpd is used by admins, who think that Apache httpd has grown to far to result into a stable and efficient webserver. Furthermore: The user communities in the open source world are more fluid. The Microsoft ecosphere is a little bit different. Microsoft is only able to survive it´s constant underdelivery in regard of their operating system because of their applications. You have to use Windows, if you want to use MS Word or MS Excel. But as i wrote a while ago: In Open Source the binary of an application is just a Makefile away. Thus there is no application-enforced vendor lock-in. When people don´t like their old OS (out of whatever reason) anymore or just want features of another OS, it´s just an rsync to the new away. Commercial IT would take a little bit longer because of already existing runbooks and processes. But Unixes aren´t that far away from each other to make this impossible. Despite what many want to think: Linux isn´t immune to this. So the interesting question is … what will be after Linux? LinuxNG, OpenSolaris, BSD, Windunix? That´s an interesting question and i have no answer to it. Just an opinion. It the next Linux a already known operating system. Or a completly new operating environment? What would be the path of Linux after such an downward path … it´s a community development. The next interesting question is: Are highly dispersed development communities capable to restart a franchise? Like other restarts: MacOS 9 to X (non-opensouce), like Solaris 9 to 10 (open-sourcE). Both restarts were triggered from large companies with a large interest in the restart and deep pockets to pay developers. Or would the community just move to another prefered development platform moving Linux into a niche, like the BSDs today? After writing this article i had an additional answer to the question of a customer: “Why does Sun still develop Solaris instead of supporting Linux the development” aside from all the technological and commercial reasons: Because Linux needs Solaris. Without a strong, innovative competitor the downward spiral (as the innovation would be just limited to supporting new hardware) would just go faster and this would open an opportunity to other systems. The otherway round Solaris needs Linux … Solaris 10 would look different without the large impact of Linux in the market and the balance of power between Windows and. Unix would look differently. It´s the same with MacOS. The Apple developers were in need of an improving Windows to restart the MacOS franchise with X. Without it Apple would be a large part of computer history, but not of contemporary IT. So, we should think about the time after Linux as well we should think how Linux gain strength in such a phase. But as i wrote at start, it´s hard to think about it, when predictions are such a hard business.